Joy as the Talented Artist Khaled Qassim is Approved for Release from Guantánamo, But When Will He Be Freed?


Khaled Qassim, in an undated photo taken at Guantánamo in the early years of his imprisonment.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.


20 years and two months since the Yemeni prisoner Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim) arrived at Guantánamo, where he has been held ever since without charge or trial, he has finally been approved for release. 25 years old at the time his capture, and frozen in time in the only known photo of him, taken at Guantánamo in the early years of his imprisonment, he is now 45 years old, and has, as a result, spent almost half his life at the prison.

The announcement that Khaled has been approved for release is wonderful news, as those of us who have been studying Guantánamo closely know that he is a talented artist (I posted an article about his art when it was shown in New York two years ago), and, in addition, we learned via his close friend, the released prisoner and author Mansoor Adayfi, that he is also a natural leader, a beautiful singer, a writer, a teacher and a talented football player.

Mansoor told us that Khaled’s natural leadership abilities meant that, in 2010, a Navy Commander said of him, “We like Khalid to represent all the detainees. He talks like a poet when he speaks on behalf of the detainees, and he’s an easy man to deal with,” although he was also, in the prison’s early years, a persistent hunger striker, one of around dozen young, mainly Yemeni prisoners who, as Adayfi explained in his powerful memoir, “Don’t Forget Us Here,” published last year, countered the US’s brutality and injustice with perpetual resistance, as did Adayfi himself.

Khaled is the last of the “red-eyes,” as they were known, to be still held at Guantánamo. Shockingly, Adayfi’s book explained that five of the men died, reportedly by committing suicide, although that assessment has been repeatedly challenged, while the others have all, over the years, been released.

Khaled, however, failed to play the necessary game to secure his release — showing sufficient contrition during the Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type process convened by President Obama to bypass obstruction by Republicans in Congress to the release of prisoners. In 2015, a PRB refused to recommend him for release not because of anything he was alleged to have done before his capture (he was not alleged to have done more than receive military training in Afghanistan), but on the basis of his “significant noncompliance” while imprisoned at Guantánamo.

However, this absurd — and stunningly unjust — situation continued for another seven years. At the end of 2021, another PRB refused to recommend him for release, despite acknowledging his “low level of training and lack of leadership in al Qaida or the Taliban,” because of his “inability to manage his emotions and actions,” his “high level of significant noncompliance in the last year,” and his “lack of plans for the future if released.”

Finally, however, after another review was scheduled for May this year, and Mark Maher, one of his attorneys, wrote a glowing testimony about him, calling him “a good man, with a lot to offer this world,” who is also “extraordinarily thoughtful, kind, and funny,” and “humble too,” Khaled has at last been approved for release.

In their final determination, dated July 19, the board members noted that, although he “has made threatening statements in the past year,” they believe that “the threat he may pose can be mitigated.”

They added that, in making their decision, they “considered [his] low level of training and lack of a leadership role in al Qaida or the Taliban, [his] candor in answering questions from the Board regarding his pre-detention activity and motivations, [his] improved compliance and acceptance of responsibility for prior non-compliance, [his] willingness to work on how he manages his emotions and frustrations in detention and efforts to be a positive influence on camp life, the support available to [him] from his counsel and outside organizations if he were to be transferred and [his] efforts to improve his post-detention plans.”

Regarding security arrangements in connection with his release, the board members recommended “[t]ransfer to a country with a strong rehabilitation and reintegration program and appropriate security assurances as agreed to by the relevant USG departments and agencies.”

“Save the World”: a 2016 painting by Khaled Qassim that was recently posted on Facebook by Mansoor Adayfi.

But when will Khaled — and 20 other men approved for release — actually be freed?

This good news must, of course, be tempered by the realization that Khaled now joins a queue of other prisoners also awaiting release — 20 in total, out of a prison population that now numbers just 36.

15 of those men have been approved for release by PRBs since President Biden took office, one was approved for release under Donald Trump, while the three others have, shamefully, been waiting since 2010 to be freed, when Obama’s first review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, approved them for release. The last of the men awaiting release is Majid Khan, a Pakistani who is awaiting freedom because the prison sentence he served, in exchange for becoming a cooperating witness, has now been served.

While we must all acknowledge that it is difficult to release the Yemenis, who make up nine of the 20 men, because Congress has banned repatriations from Guantánamo to Yemen, and third countries must be found that will offer them new homes, there does not appear to be any obstacle preventing other men from being sent home — to Pakistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Kenya, for example.

As a result, it is hard not to conclude that President Biden isn’t prioritizing their release — as though there is nothing untoward about continuing to hold men approved for release indefinitely. While it is commendable that there are now just four men explicitly held indefinitely without charge or trial as “forever prisoners” (down from 22 when he took office), it must also be remembered that he has released just four men since he became president — the last two of the 38 men approved for release by PRBs under Obama, a mentally ill Saudi, and an Afghan with the distinction of being the only man in over a decade to have a court order his release.

Only in Guantánamo could such contempt for the law, for justice and fairness continue to thrive, and President Biden should realize that, just because no mechanism exists to compel the granting of freedom to men approved for release from Guantánamo, that doesn’t mean that continuing to hold them is anything other than a profound abdication of moral responsibility.

These men have suffered enough, and the State Department should — and must — step up its efforts to get them out of Guantánamo so that they can begin to rebuild their lives.

POSTSCRIPT: On August 11, my band The Four Fathers released “Forever Prisoner,” a song I wrote about Khaled before he was finally approved for release, but whose recording was delayed because of Covid. Technically, he is no longer a “forever prisoner,” having now joined a queue of 19 other men approved for release who are still held, but as there is no legal mechanism that requires the US government to release any of these men, it maybe worthwhile, and accurate, to regard them all as “forever prisoners,” along with the four remaining men who have neither been charged nor approved for release.

Check out “Forever Prisoner” below, via Bandcamp. You can listen to it for free, but please feel free to buy it as a download if you like it.

* * * * *

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.

9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, reporting the welcome news that “forever prisoner” Khaled Qassim, a talented artist, writer, singer and footballer, has finally been approved for release from Guantanamo by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established under President Obama.

    From 2015 until the end of last year, Periodic Review Boards recommended his ongoing imprisonment without charge not trial not because of anything he was alleged to have done before his capture — the authorities have long recognized that he was nothing more than a low-level soldier in Afghanistan — but because of his “non-compliance” over the last 20 years at Guantanamo.

    Now, however, he has finally convinced the authorities that he doesn’t pose a threat, although all that means in practical terms is that he joins a queue of 20 other prisoners awaiting release.

    Is there no end to the casual but profound injustice of Guantanamo?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    Amazing lovely news.

    Let’s imagine an empty Guantánamo and keep fighting for its closure.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I like the idea of imagining an empty Guantanamo, Natalia!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    David Barrows wrote:

    The sooner he gets out the better. He actually deserves a large cash settlement for sustained mistreatment at that infamous colonial outpost.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, David. I’m in the early stages of setting up a new organization to call for accountability for the crimes committed Guantanamo, and, eventually, I hope, to be able to call for reparations. I’m interested to hear from people who might want to be involved.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Brigid Mary Oates wrote:

    Let’s hope he gets out quickly xx

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, let’s hope so, Brigid, but sadly I’m not encouraged by the fact that so many men have been approved for release since Biden took office, but so few have been freed. The State Department really need to be working on resettlements with some diligence.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish translation, on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘Felicidad con la aprobación de liberación para el talentoso artista Khaled Qassim de Guantánamo, pero ¿cuándo será liberado?’:

  9. Ilmu Forensik says...

    What qualities and characteristics did Khaled possess that led a Navy Commander to express a positive view of him as a representative for all detainees in 2010? How did Khaled’s role as a spokesperson for detainees, characterized by his eloquence and ease of dealing with others, contrast with his early years in the prison as a persistent hunger striker? Additionally, how did other young prisoners, particularly Yemenis like Khaled, engage in perpetual resistance against the perceived brutality and injustice of the U.S. detention?
    Visit us telkom university

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