Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo, Saifullah Paracha and the Plight of the Men Approved for Release on WSLR 96.5 in Florida


Andy Worthington, calling for the closure of Guantánamo outside the White House on January 11, 2020, and Saifullah Paracha, photographed after his release from the prison in November 2022.

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Many thanks to Bob Connors and Tom Walker of WSLR 96.5, a progressive community radio station in Sarasota, Florida, for having me on their show, “The Peace & Justice Report,” on Wednesday. As the hosts explain, the show “covers local, state, national and international social justice issues,” featuring “a wide variety of guests whose views are underrepresented in the mainstream media,” including “peace activists who are devoting their lives to creating a world free from war, violence and environmental destruction.”

I’ve spoken to Bob and Tom before — in 2018, 2019 and last year —and it was great to talk to them again, not only because they are such welcoming hosts, but also because far too few radio shows in the US — or around the world — devote any time at all to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo.

Our 22-minute interview is embedded below, and I hope you have time to listen to it, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

Andy Worthington on the Peace & Justice Report with Bob Connors and Tom Walker on WSLR 96.5 in Sarasota, Florida, November 9, 2022.

The catalyst for the interview was some rare good news from Guantánamo — the release of Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, which I wrote about in an article entitled, As Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s Oldest Prisoner, Is Finally Freed, Here’s the Full Story of His Shameful 19-Year Imprisonment.

On the day after the midterm elections, when the majority of Florida’s voters had turned out for the Republicans, it seemed somehow appropriate to be discussing how, under George W. Bush, Saifullah, a Pakistani businessman, had been kidnapped in Thailand in July 2003, held in a “black site” in Afghanistan, and transferred to Guantánamo in September 2004, where he had been held for another 18 years before he was finally freed, never having been charged with a crime — in common with the majority of the 732 men who have been released from Guantánamo since it opened nearly 21 long years ago.

Sadly, the failures of justice in Saifullah’s case don’t just involve Republicans, although no one should ever forget that the enduring shame of Guantánamo is entirely the responsibility of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumseld and other key Republicans in the early years of the 21st century.

Under Bush, Saifullah had been designated for prosecution, in connection with dubious claims that he was involved with Al-Qaeda, and when President Obama took office the first review process that he established, the high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, reached the same conclusion. However, as the viability of successful prosecutions dwindled, with the military commission trial system buckling under legal challenges, he and other men initially recommended for prosecution were made eligible for a second review process, the Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type system that initially failed him, because the reviews required contrition, and Saifullah refused to accept responsibility for the the crimes of which he was accused.

It was not until May last year, under President Biden, that a PRB finally recommended him for release, even though, in 2018, a New York judge had thrown out the 2005 conviction against his son, Uzair, also implicated in an alleged Al-Qaeda plot, after recognizing that self-incriminating confessions made by Uzair had been solicited under duress. That decision, and the fact that Uzair was flown back to Pakistan as a free man in March 2020 ought to have shattered any kind of case against Saifullah too, but, as I noted at the time, “the horrible truth about Guantánamo is that suspicions are regarded as far more compelling than evidence.”

Also of relevance — as well as the power of suspicions at Guantánamo — is government inertia, as can be seen by the fact that it took nearly a year and half for Saifullah to be freed after his May 2021 PRB result. As I explained to Bob and Tom, the inertia stems from the fact that no legal mechanism exists to compel the government to act with any haste — or, even, at all — when it comes to releasing men from Guantánamo who have been approved for release by review processes, because those reviews are purely administrative.

The case of Saifullah Paracha finally broke through this inertia, but the sad truth is that 20 other men are still held at Guantánamo — out of the 35 men still held —  who have also been approved for release, but who are also still held because of this institutional inertia. Most of these men (16 in total) have been approved for release since President Biden took office, but one was approved for release in the dying days of the Trump administration, and three others, shamefully, are still languishing at Guantánamo despite having been approved for release in 2009.

It’s mildly reassuring that a senior diplomat, Tina Kaidanow, has recently been appointed as the administration’s “Senior Representative for Guantánamo Affairs” in the State Department, but it remains to be seen how much power has been invested in her role, which is necessary for engaging in resettlement negotiations with third countries for the men approved for release who cannot be safely repatriated, as is the case with at least ten of the men still held (eight Yemenis, a Libyan and a Somali). For others, however — two Algerians, a Kenyan, two more Pakistanis and three Saudis, for example — there appears to be no reason why they have not already been freed.

In conclusion, Bob and Tom extended a warm welcome to me if I ever make it out to Florida again (I spent a day and a half there in January 2016, before flying up to Washington, D.C. for the annual vigil outside the White House calling for Guantánamo’s closure on the anniversary of its opening). I’m hoping to visit the US again this January, for the first time in three years (because of Covid) to play my part in publicizing the need for President Biden to get Guantánamo closed, and it would be great if I could find a way to also take in other locations, like Florida, and the West Coast, which I haven’t visited since 2014. Do get in touch if you can help with any aspects of my proposed visit!

* * * * *

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, linking to and discussing my recent radio interview with Bob Connors and Tom Walker of WSLR 96.5, a progressive community radio station in Sarasota, Florida, about the release from Guantanamo of 75-year old Saifullah Paracha, Guantanamo’s oldest prisoner, and the plight of the 20 other men approved for release (out of the 35 still held), for whom no legal mechanism exists to actually compel the US government to free them, because the review processes that approved them for release are purely administrative.

    I hope you have time to listen to the show, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful. As I say in the article, “it was great to talk to [Bob and Tom] again, not only because they are such welcoming hosts, but also because far too few radio shows in the US — or around the world — devote any time at all to the ongoing injustice of Guantanamo.”


  2. Anna says...

    From my favourite Canadian journalist (the only Canadian one I know of, but still favourite 🙂 ) concerning the liberation of Mr Paracha. Caustic outrage about those (mostly politicians) who deserve it and empathy rather than condescendence towards the downtrodden and the voiceless. Andrew Mitrovica seems to be a thoroughly decent person and I have never caught him defending anything morally indefendable.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. I saw that when it came out, but then, for some reason, it disappeared for a while. Not sure what that was about.

    Andrew Mitrovica definitely doesn’t pull any punches – and how refreshing that is. “The responsibility for this horror is shared by a succession of unrepentant US presidents who will likely never experience even a minute measure of regret or discomfort for what they did to an ageing, frail man and his family.” Very well said.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish version, on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘Radio: Discutí Guantánamo, Saifullah Paracha y la difícil situación de los hombres aprobados para ser liberados en WSLR 96.5 en Florida’:

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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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