The Shameful Human Cost of Inertia at Joe Biden’s Guantánamo

Lutfi bin Ali, a Tunisian held at Guantánamo, who recently died in Mauritania, having been unable to secure the medical treatment he needed, which he had also been unable to secure in Kazakhstan, the country to which he was first released in 2014.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Today, the prison at Guantánamo Bay has been open for 7,033 days — that’s 19 years and three months — and Joe Biden has been president for 84 days, and yet, apart from some hopeful murmurings from a handful of administration officials regarding a “robust” inter-agency review of the prison, and aspirations for its closure, no concrete proposals have been issued to indicate that any movement is imminent that will break the inertia of Donald Trump’s four lamentable years as commander in chief, when just one prisoner was released, leaving 40 men still held when Biden took office, mostly held indefinitely without charge or trial.

It may be that President Biden is unwilling to discuss Guantánamo in any detail until he has firm plans for dealing with all of the men still held, and if this is the case, then it is, sadly, understandable, because the merest mention of Guantánamo tends to provoke cynical and unbridled opposition from Republicans in Congress — although if this is the case then it only shows the extent to which, as under Barack Obama, political pragmatism — and fear of unprincipled opposition from those who cynically use Guantánamo for cheap political advantage — are considered much more important than telling Americans the truth about the prison:, that every day it remains open, holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, ought to be a source of profound national shame.

Beyond political maneuvering, however, Biden’s inertia also prolongs the grinding injustice experienced on a daily basis by the men still held at Guantánamo — as well as having dangerous, and sometimes life-threatening repercussions for some of the men already released.

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President Elect Biden, It’s Time to Close Guantánamo

Eight of the 40 remaining Guantánamo prisoners, who, along with other men still held, should be released by Joe Biden as soon as possible after he becomes president in January 2021. Top row, from L to R: Abdul Latif Nasser, Sufyian Barhoumi and Tawfiq al-Bihani, all approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, and Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner. Bottom row, from L to R: Khaled Qassim, Asadullah Haroon Gul, Ahmed Rabbani and Omar al-Rammah. Paracha and the four others in the bottom row haven’t been approved for release, but they should be, as none of them pose a threat to the US.

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.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Congratulations to President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris for persuading enough people to vote Democrat to end the dangerous presidency of Donald Trump.

Trump was a nightmare on so many fronts, and had been particularly dangerous on race, with his vile Muslim travel ban at the start of his presidency, nearly four long years ago, his prisons for children on the Mexican border, and, this last year, in his efforts to inflame a race war, after the murder of George Floyd by a policeman sparked huge protests across the country.

At Guantánamo, Trump’s racism manifested itself via indifference to the fate of the 40 Muslim men, mostly imprisoned without charge or trial and held for up to 15 years when he took office. To him they were terrorists, and he had no interest in knowing that very few of the men held at Guantánamo have ever been accused of involvement with terrorism, and that, of the 40 men still held, only nine of them have been charged with crimes, and five of them were unanimously approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

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“I Am Not Even Allowed To Hear My Own Story”: A Letter from Guantánamo by Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release But Still Held By Donald Trump

A composite image produced by Esquire Middle East to accompany their recent publication of a poignant and powerful letter from Guantánamo by the Moroccan prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, cross-posted below.

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 of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Since the vocal British resident Shaker Aamer and the best-selling author and torture victim Mohamedou Ould Salahi were released from Guantánamo, in 2015 and 2016, the prison population has lacked a prominent and well-known face to illuminate its continuing injustice.

This has been particularly unfortunate because, for the last three and a half years, Guantánamo has been largely forgotten by the mainstream media, demonstrating, to anyone paying attention, that a dangerous and unprincipled leader (in this case, Donald Trump) can, in a supposedly liberal democracy, make people forget about a gross and lingering injustice largely by pretending that it doesn’t exist — or, in Guantánamo’s case, by metaphorically sealing it shut and largely ignoring it.

This is particularly shameful because Guantánamo is not just a symbol of injustice; it is also the place where the United States’ notion of itself as a country that respects the rule of law was sent to die on January 11, 2002, and has been dead ever since. At Guantánamo, 40 men are still held, but the majority of those men are still held in the same despicable conditions of lawlessness that first prevailed on that winter morning over 18 and a half years ago when the Bush administration first released photos of the prisoners it intended to hold, without any rights whatsoever, and quite possibly for the rest of their lives.

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Lockdown Listening: Radiolab’s Six-Part, Four-Hour Series About Guantánamo Prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release But Still Held

An image produced by Will Paybarah for Radiolab’s series “The Other Latif,” about Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser.

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 of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

As the coronavirus continues to impact massively on our lives, via lockdowns and a global death count that has now reached over 250,000, spare a thought for the prisoners at Guantánamo, who are more isolated than ever. Although it is profoundly reassuring that the virus has not reached the prison — despite a US sailor contracting it on the naval base in March — the 40 men still held have not had any contact with anyone other than their captors since the US lockdown began.

Their attorneys are no longer able to fly out to see them, and, last Saturday, Carol Rosenberg of the New York Times tweeted that the International Committee of the Red Cross had “canceled its quarterly visit because of the virus.”  As she proceeded to explain, ICRC delegations have been “meeting with the detainees and prison commander since Camp X-Ray opened in 2002,” and the visit on May 22 would have been the ICRC’s 135th visit to the prison.

As the lockdown continues — and so many of us have more time on our hands than previously — now seems like a good opportunity for those of you who are interested in Guantánamo to listen to “The Other Latif,” an unprecedented six-part, four-hour series about one particular prisoner, Abdul Latif Nasser, the last Moroccan national in the prison, whose case we have covered many times over the years — see, for example, Abandoned in Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release Three Years Ago, But Still Held, from last August, and Trump’s Personal Prisoners at Guantánamo: The Five Men Cleared for Release But Still Held, from last November.

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Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo on the Project Censored Show with Mickey Huff, on WBAI in New York, and with Michael Slate in L.A.

Andy Worthington discussing Guantánamo on RT on January 15, 2020, in the only news feature marking the 18th anniversary of the prison’s opening in the whole of the US broadcast media.

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 of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I’m now back in the UK after an inspiring ten-day visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the 18th anniversary of its opening, when I took part in a prominent rally in Washington, D.C. on the actual anniversary (January 11), two subsequent speaking events with lawyers representing prisoners, one TV interview (the sole TV feature marking the anniversary in the whole of the US broadcast media) and six radio interviews.

My visit was important, I think, because, although Guantánamo ought to be a source of permanent shame for all decent Americans, it has fallen so far off the radar under Donald Trump that many people don’t even know that it exists, and many of those who do don’t care, even though the continued existence of the prison, where the US government holds foreign Muslims without charge or trial, and, in many cases, with no genuine effort made over 18 years to establish who they are, is like a virus infecting America’s soul.

Although few people care, my efforts to remind people of the prison’s existence, and my shared events with lawyers who still visit prisoners (and particularly Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who carries the weight of their horrendous isolation and despair under Donald Trump), was easily enough to persuade me that, despite America’s amnesia, this work is still of extraordinary importance.

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Horribly Repressive: The Truth About Donald Trump’s Guantánamo

Khaled Qassim, Abdul Latif Nasser and Saifullah Paracha, three of the Guantánamo prisoners who told their lawyers that, this summer, they were subjected to repressive and culturally inadequate treatment by medical personnel at the prison.

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 of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

In a recent article about Guantánamo — a rarity in the US mainstream media — ABC News picked up on a sad story of medical neglect and culturally inappropriate behavior by medical personnel at the prison, as conveyed to the broadcaster by Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, an attorney who represents some of the 40 men still held.

In “‘Degrading’: Aging detainees describe health care woes at Guantánamo 18 years after 9/11,” ABC News’ Guy Davies described how a “breakdown in trust between detainees and doctors” had “reached breaking point” at the prison.

The ailments of Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner

Davies’ article began by looking at the case of 72-year old Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, who suffers from “debilitating chest pains,” an “overactive bladder and enlarged prostate,” as well as “diabetes, coronary artery disease, diverticulosis, gout, psoriasis and arthritis,” as Sullivan-Bennis told ABC News, adding that he “has also suffered two heart attacks, one of which occurred when he was held in Bagram, in Afghanistan, before his transfer to Guantánamo” in September 2004.

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Abandoned in Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release Three Years Ago, But Still Held

Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, cleared for release from the prison over three years ago, but still held, and Camp 6, where he remains imprisoned with 23 other low-level prisoners.

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 of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Over 17 and a half years since the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, it is, sadly, rare for the mainstream US media — with the bold exception of Carol Rosenberg at the New York Times — to spend any time covering it, even though its continued existence remains a source of profound shame for anyone who cares about US claims that it is a nation founded on the rule of law.

Given the general lack of interest, it was encouraging that, a few weeks ago, ABC News reported on the unforgivable plight of Abdul Latif Nasser, a 54-year old Moroccan prisoner, to mark the third anniversary of his approval for release from the prison. Nasser is one of five of the remaining 40 prisoners who were approved for release by high-level US government review processes under President Obama, but who are still held.

In Nasser’s case, as I reported for Al-Jazeera in June 2017, this was because, although he was approved for release in June 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process that approved 38 prisoners for release from 2013 to 2016, the necessary paperwork from the Moroccan government didn’t reach the Obama administration until 22 days before Obama left office, and legislation passed by Republicans stipulated that Congress had to be informed 30 days before a prisoner was to be released, meaning that, for Nasser, as I described it, “the difference between freedom and continued incarceration was just eight days.”

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Abdul Latif Nasser’s Story: Imagine Being Told You Were Leaving Guantánamo, But Then Donald Trump Became President

A recent photo of Guantanamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, as taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.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 of the Trump administration.




 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

“Close Guantánamo” has recently been on vacation, a short break punctured only by the latest episode in our ongoing photo campaign — 6,050 days of the prison’s existence, on August 4, and photos marking this latest bleak anniversary, featuring opponents of the prison’s continued existence.

Donald Trump doesn’t care, of course. While the president who set up Guantánamo (George W. Bush) eventually conceded it had been a mistake, and while his successor (Barack Obama) said he would close it but didn’t, Trump is an enthusiast for keeping it open, seems to care nothing about the law, would reintroduce torture and send new prisoners to Guantánamo if he could, and clearly has no intention of releasing anyone from the prison at all, even though five of the 40 men still held were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

Three of the five had their release approved by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that Obama set up shortly after first taking office in 2009 to advise him on what to do with the 240 men he had inherited from George W. Bush (he was recommended to release 156 men, to try 36 and to continue to hold 48 without charge or trial), and two had their release approved by the Periodic Review Boards that subsequently reviewed the cases of 64 prisoners from the latter two categories from 2013 to 2016 on a parole-type basis. Read the rest of this entry »

Really? Trump Lawyer Argues in Court that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Be Held for 100 Years Without Charge or Trial

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 of the Trump administration.




 

Last Wednesday, as I flagged up in a well-received article the day before, lawyers for eleven of the 40 prisoners still held at Guantánamo finally got the opportunity to follow up on a collective habeas corpus filing that they submitted to the District Court in Washington D.C. on January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison. The filing, submitted by lawyers from organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Reprieve on behalf of 11 of the remaining 40 prisoners, argued, as CCR described it after the hearing, that “their perpetual detention, based on Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances, is arbitrary and unlawful.”

CCR added that the motions of eight of the 11 men were referred to Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who heard the argument today”, and stated that the lawyers had “asked the judge to order their release.”

CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy, who argued the case in court, said after the hearing, “Our dangerous experiment in indefinite detention, after 16 years, has run its course. Due process of law does not permit the arbitrary detention of individuals, particularly at the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has pledged to prevent any releases from Guantánamo. That position is based not on a meaningful assessment of any actual threat, but on Trump’s animosity towards Muslims, including these foreign-born prisoners at Guantanamo — the height of arbitrariness. Short of judicial intervention, Trump will succeed.” Read the rest of this entry »

Good News: Court Orders Trump Administration to Explain Its Position on Guantánamo After A Year of Shocking Inaction

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and a photo of the prison at Guantanamo Bay on the day of its opening, Jan. 11, 2002.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 of the Trump administration.





 

Two and a half weeks ago, on the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, lawyers for eleven of the 41 men still held at Guantánamo, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, and other legal firms, filed a habeas corpus lawsuit with the District Court in Washington, D.C., in which, as I explained in an article at the time, drawing on a CCR press release:

[I]t “argues that Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said, “It’s clear that a man who thinks we should water-board terror suspects even if it doesn’t work, because ‘they deserve it, anyway’ has no qualms about keeping every last detainee in Guantanamo, so long as he holds the jailhouse key.”

CCR’s press release also stated, “The filing argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly,” adding that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.”

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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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