Sufyian Barhoumi Sent Home From Guantánamo to Algeria Nearly Five and a Half Years After Being Approved for Release; 19 Other Cleared Prisoners Remain


Sufyian Barhoumi, in a photo taken at Guantánamo in recent years by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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Great news from Guantánamo, as Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian who was approved for release in August 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established under President Obama, has finally been freed, sent back home to be reunited with his family

Barhoumi narrowly missed being released under Obama, was then stuck at Guantánamo for four years under Donald Trump — whose enthusiasm for Guantánamo was such that he released only one man during his four depressing years in office — and then had to wait another 14 months for President Biden to finally bring to an end his outrageous predicament — being approved for release but not actually being freed.

His release leaves just 37 men still held at Guantánamo, although it must be noted that over half of these men —19 in total — have also been approved for release: 14 since President Biden took office, one approved for release in October 2020, and three others who have been waiting for over 12 years, having been told that the US had no interest in continuing to hold them endlessly without charge or trial back in January 2010, when President Obama’s first review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, approved them for release. The other man awaiting release, as I wrote about two days ago, is Majid Khan, sentenced after a plea deal in the military commissions, whose sentence ended on March 1, but who is still held, despite the authorities having had ten years to arrange his release.

Barhoumi himself, as his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights explained in a press release, “became a fluent English-speaker,” and “was well-liked at Guantánamo by both guards and other imprisoned men.”

As CCR also explained, “His father, a lawyer imprisoned by the French during the Algerian independence movement, died while Sufyian was in prison. Mr. Barhoumi is pleased he has arrived home in time to attend his younger brother’s wedding later this year, and plans to take that brother’s place as caretaker for his mother. Last week, he told his attorneys that the deputy camp commander called him in and told him he was going home, ‘And at that moment, I saw my mother in the room in front of me, and I couldn’t stop crying.’”

Barhoumi was captured on March 28, 2002, in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan, that led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah, the Saudi-born Palestinian for whom the US’s post-9/11 torture program was first developed, in the mistaken belief that he was a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda.

Initially regarded as a bomb-maker, he was put forward for a trial by military commission in May 2008, but those charges were dropped in October 2008, after the prosecutor in his case, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, resigned from another case to which he had been assigned, denouncing the military commissions, as I explained the time, as “a rigged system in which ‘potentially exculpatory evidence’ was ‘not provided’ to the defense teams.”

As I also explained, Vandeveld’s resignation left those in charge of the commissions “so concerned that he would again testify for the defense in five other cases for which he was responsible [including Barhoumi’s] — revealing, quite possibly, more extraordinary tales of suppressed evidence and incriminating documents stumbled upon by mistake — that they dropped all the charges” against these prisoners.

Barhoumi subsequently had his habeas corpus petition, and a subsequent appeal, turned down in 2009 and 2010, and was then trapped in the limbo that faced the many prisoners who were not charged, but had failed to secure release from Guantánamo via the courts. In 2013, he asked to be charged, as a way of getting out of Guantánamo, primarily to look after his elderly mother, but his pleas fell on deaf ears, and it was not until May 2016 that he was given another opportunity to secure his freedom via a Periodic Review Board.

By then, as his lawyer, Shayana Kadidal explained, he was recognized in the prison as a ”natural diplomat,” who was popular with both his fellow prisoners and the guard force. As Kadidal put it, “I personally have never seen any other detainee treated by the guards as well as Barhoumi, even at times when relations between prisoners and the authorities were at a low point.” He added, “If the language barrier is one of the greatest causes of misunderstandings and conflict at GTMO, he’s used his language skills to help both prisoners and guards quash problems before they grew too big to tame. It has not gone unappreciated by either group.”

When he was finally approved for release, on August 9, 2016, it seemed that his release was imminent, but with just weeks to go before Obama left office, it became apparent that unexplained obstacles had been raised. His lawyers petitioned a court to secure his release, but, as ABC News explained, a federal judge “declined to intervene in the Pentagon’s decision not to repatriate Barhoumi, whose lawyer said he had expected his client to be released and that the prisoner’s family had begun making preparations for his return, including by buying him a car and a small restaurant for him to run. The Justice Department said then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter rejected the release of Barhoumi on Jan. 12, 2017, ‘based on a variety of substantive concerns, shared by multiple agencies,’ without going into detail.”

CCR added that the government had stated in a court filing that “its failure to transfer him was due to factors ‘not related to petitioner himself,’” but that was no help to Barhoumi himself, who told his lawyer, “it’s not you who decides when I leave this place, and it’s not politicians. It’s God. He decides when I will leave.”

As CCR also explained, Barhoumi is a “multi-lingual fan of pop culture whose favorite movie is the cheerleader battle film ‘Bring It On,’” and he has often stated that he has “no black heart against America” despite his long years of imprisonment. His final words to his attorneys on Thursday were “Hasta la vista!”

Responding to the news of his release, Shayana Kadidal said, “Our government owes Sufyian and his mother years of their lives back.” He added, “I’m overjoyed that he will be home with his family, but I will dearly miss his constant good humor and empathy for the suffering of others in the utterly depressing environment of Guantánamo.”

In a tweet, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, another Guantánamo lawyer, wrote that she was “indescribably happy” for Sufyian, and noted that he “once told me he loves to dance and frequently told me my French was abysmal.” Addressing him directly, she added, “You brought humor and light into one of the darkest places on earth — may you dance whenever the mood strikes and be surrounded by the voices of your family.”

For their part, the Department of Defense, announcing his release on Saturday, noted that he “was repatriated with assurances from the Algerian government that he would be treated humanely,” and that “security measures would be imposed to reduce the risk that he could pose a threat in the future” — a threat that, as seems clear from the appreciation of Barhoumi’s character in Guantánamo from both prisoners and guards, is fundamentally non-existent.

I wish him the best as he is reunited with his mother and the rest of his family, and I hope we will hear soon of more releases of men still held at Guantánamo long after they have been approved for release.

* * * * *

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), the 196 prisoners released from February 2009 to January 2017 by President Obama, the one prisoner released by Donald Trump, and the first two prisoners released by President Biden, 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; August 2016 — 12 Yemenis and 3 Afghans to the United Arab Emirates (see here and here); October 2016 — 1 Mauritanian (Mohammedou Ould Slahi); December 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Cape Verde; January 2017 — 4 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia8 Yemenis and 2 Afghans to Oman1 Russian, 1 Afghan and 1 Yemeni to the United Arab Emirates, and 1 Saudi repatriated to Saudi Arabia for continued detention; May 2018 — 1 Saudi to continued imprisonment in Saudi Arabia; July 2021 — 1 Moroccan; March 2022 — 1 Saudi (Mohammed al-Qahtani).

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison 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 you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — continues.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, celebrating the release from Guantanamo of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian who was approved for release nearly five and a half years ago, by a Periodic Review Board under President Obama, but who was not released before Obama left office.

    A positive presence in Guantanamo, appreciated by the staff and prisoners alike, he was described by the attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis as someone who “brought humor and light into one of the darkest places on earth.”

    37 men now remain at the prison, but over half of them — 19 men — have also been approved for release, and President Biden also needs to arrange for these men to be given their freedom as swiftly as is possible.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    Mansoor Adayfi sent me the good news yesterday! I hope Ed Charles allows me to translate this! I’m so happy! I cried when I read the news. I know this place will close. We will celebrate.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I was away for the day yesterday, Natalia, watching my son perform in ‘Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster’ in Canterbury, so I didn’t get the news until I got home. It’s very reassuring news. Now we need more announcements to follow – the release of Saifullah Paracha, for example.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish translation, on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘Sufyian Barhoumi fue enviado de Guantánamo a Argelia casi cinco años y medio después de haber sido aprobado para liberación; otros 19 prisioneros también aprobados siguen ahí’:

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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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