The US’s Ongoing “Forever Prisoner” Problem at Guantánamo

The five “forever prisoners” still held at Guantánamo without charge or trial: Muhammad Rahim, Abu Zubaydah, Khaled Qassim, Ismael Bakush and Mustafa al-Usaybi (aka Abu Faraj al-Libi).

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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.

It’s now over 20 years since, in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration declared that it had the right to hold indefinitely, and without charge or trial, those seized in the “war on terror” that was launched after the attacks.

As a result of the US turning its back on laws and treaties designed to ensure that people can only be imprisoned if they are charged and put on trial, or held until the end of hostilities as prisoners of war, the men held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay have struggled to challenge the basis of their imprisonment.

For a brief period, from 2008 to 2010, the law actually counted at Guantánamo, after the Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, and 32 men were freed because judges ruled that the government had failed to establish — even with an extremely low evidentiary bar — that they had any meaningful connection to either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. However, this brief triumph for the law came to an end when politically motivated appeals court judges passed a number of rulings that made successful habeas petitions unattainable.

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Algerian Suffering from PTSD, and Mistakenly Identified as an Associate of Abu Zubaydah, Is Approved for Release from Guantánamo

A prisoner at Guantánamo (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images). No photo of Saeed Bakhouch has been made public, and, as noted below, a photo that the US military claims is of him is of another unidentified prisoner instead.

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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.

On April 21, I was alerted to the news that an Algerian prisoner at Guantánamo, Said Bakush (also known as Saeed Bakhouch or Saeed Bakhouche) had been approved for release on April 13 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process initiated by President Obama. The PRB process involves “senior officials from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” who decide “whether continued detention of particular individuals held at Guantánamo remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The news was surprising, as it was the first time that a prisoner had been approved for release by a PRB without directly taking part in the process. This was undoubtedly newsworthy, but his approval for release wasn’t reported in the mainstream media, in part, I suspect, because so little information was available on the PRB website, but also because some kind of detective work is required to establish exactly who Saeed Bakhouch is.

As I reported back in 2016, in an article entitled, The Man They Don’t Know: Saeed Bakhouche, an Algerian, Faces a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo, the US authorities apparently knew so little about Bakhouch that the photo they used on his Detainee Assessment Brief, one of the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011, was of someone else entirely, as his attorney, Candace Gorman, told me at the time.

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In Abu Zubaydah Case, Justice Gorsuch Lays Bare the US Government’s Shameful and Enduring Torture Problem

An image using a photo of Abu Zubaydah at Guantánamo, created by Brigid Barrett for an article in Wired in July 2013.

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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.

As we settle into the third decade since the 9/11 attacks, and the US’s brutal and counter-productive response to it — the establishment of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and a global program of kidnapping, rendition and torture in CIA “black sites” — the US government is still furiously engaged in efforts to hide the evidence of what it did to whom, and where, even though much of that information is in the public domain, and has been for many years.

A case in point is a recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of Abu Zubaydah, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was first developed, in the mistaken belief — which the US government has since walked back from — that he was a major player in Al-Qaeda. Zubaydah, a stateless Palestinian, whose real name is Zain al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, was seized in a house raid in Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and was taken to the CIA’s first black site, in Thailand. He was then moved to further “black sites” in Poland, in Guantánamo itself, and in Morocco and Lithuania, before ending up back at Guantánamo in September 2006, with 13 other “high-value detainees,” where he has been held ever since without charge or trial.

The case before the Supreme Court didn’t involve the question of whether, after 20 years, Abu Zubaydah should be released, as one of a number of “forever prisoners” who have never been charged, although that is a perfectly valid question — and one that, in the last year, prompted 99 lawmakers to write to President Biden to urge him to release everyone still held at Guantánamo who hasn’t been charged, a total of 26 of the 38 men still held, including Abu Zubaydah.

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Over Half Of Guantánamo’s Prisoners Have Now Been Approved for Release, As Periodic Review Board Approves Release of Ghassan Al-Sharbi

Dawn at Guantánamo in 2013 (no photo exists of Ghassan al-Sharbi).

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In more good news from Guantánamo, Ghassan al-Sharbi, a 47-year old Saudi who has been held at the prison for nearly 20 years, has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established by President Obama. His approval for release means that the US government has now accepted that over half of the men held — 20 of the 39 men still imprisoned — should be freed, with 15 of those decisions taking place since President Biden took office just over a year ago.

It has been a long journey to reach the point where a panel of US officials — from the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — has approved al-Sharbi for release.

Al-Sharbi was captured on March 28, 2002, with several other men who ended up at Guantánamo (most of whom have already been released), in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan that also secured the capture of Abu Zubaydah, for whom the US torture program was subsequently developed.

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Radio: I Discuss 20 Years of Guantánamo and the Proposed Extradition of Julian Assange with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House on Jan. 11, 2020, and the logo for Chris Cook’s ‘Gorilla Radio’ show in Victoria, British Columbia.

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Last week, I was delighted to be interviewed by Chris Cook for his weekly show ‘Gorilla Radio’ in Victoria, in British Columbia. Chris and I have spoken many times before, and it’s always a great pleasure to be on his show. Our interview is available here as an MP3, and the whole show, broadcast later, and also featuring eco-poet Kim Goldberg, is here. The interviews can also be accessed via the Gorilla Radio website here and here.

We began by talking about Abu Zubaydah, and the US torture program, prompted by my recent article, “The Forever Prisoner”: Alex Gibney’s New Documentary About CIA Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah, and I briefly summarized the whole horrible story of his four and a half years in CIA “black sites”, his 15 years (to date) in Guantánamo, and his status as one of Guantánamo’s “forever prisoners” — 14 of the 39 men still held, none of whom have ever been charged with a crime.

Chris also asked me about who has been held at Guantánamo throughout its history, enabling me to explain how, far from being “the worst of the worst”, as alleged, most of the men — and boys — held at Guantánamo over the last 20 years were nothing more than foot soldiers or, in many cases, civilians seized by mistake. I didn’t mention it, but I could have repeated my assertion, which I first made many years ago, that no more than three percent of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison first opened have had any connection with the leadership structures of al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated groups.

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“The Forever Prisoner”: Alex Gibney’s New Documentary About CIA Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah

The poster for Alex Gibney’s new documentary film, “The Forever Prisoner,” released by HBO on December 6, 2021.

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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.

In the long litany of torture and abuse inflicted by the US government on prisoners in the brutal “war on terror” that the Bush administration declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, few have suffered as much as Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), for whom, mistakenly, the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was invented.

For as long as I have been studying and writing about Guantánamo, it has been apparent that Abu Zubaydah’s story is one of the darkest in the entire sorry saga of how the US lost its moral compass after 9/11.

Seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March 2002, in which he was shot and badly wounded, he was then flown to the CIA’s first post-9/11 torture prison, in Thailand. This was the start four and a half years in CIA “black sites” — including in Poland, in a “black site” in Guantánamo Bay that existed for six months in 2003-04, in Morocco, in Lithuania and in Afghanistan — before his eventual transfer back to Guantánamo, with 13 other “high-value detainees,” in September 2006.

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Never-Ending Injustice: State Secrets and the Torture of Abu Zubaydah

An illustration featuring Abu Zubaydah by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files from Guantánamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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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.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of the notorious torture victim and Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, for whom the US’s post-9/11 torture program was invented. Zubaydah, whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, was held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for four and a half years, after his capture in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002, until his eventual transfer to Guantánamo with 13 other so-called “high-value detainees” in September 2006, and he has been held there without charge or trial ever since.

Wednesday’s hearing was the result of an appeal by the government against a ground-breaking ruling two years ago, by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the judges openly declared that Abu Zubaydah had been tortured. It was, as Abu Zubaydah’s attorney, Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies, explained, “the first time an appellate court” had “come right out and said that the enhanced interrogation techniques were torture.”

While this was significant, it wasn’t the main topic of the case, which involved the state secrets privilege, whereby government officials can argue that sensitive information whose disclosure, they claim, might endanger national security, must not be disclosed in a court. Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers were — and still are — seeking permission for the architects of the torture program, the contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, to be questioned about the details of his torture while he was held in a “black site” in Poland, in 2002-03, after his initial torture in a “black site” in Thailand in 2002, for use in the Polish government’s ongoing investigation.

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Abu Zubaydah Files Complaint About Torture and Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo with UN Arbitrary Detention Experts

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files from Guantánamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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On Friday, Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), a notorious victim of torture in the CIA’s “black site” program, who has been held without charge or trial at Guantánamo since September 2006, submitted a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, regarding the lawless nature of his imprisonment and treatment since he was first seized in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002.

The case has been submitted by Helen Duffy, Abu Zubaydah’s international legal representative since 2010, who represented him in his successful cases before the European Court of Human Rights regarding his “black site” detention in Poland and Lithuania, and the complaint accuses seven countries of having responsibility for his long imprisonment and mistreatment — not only (and primarily) the US, but also Thailand, Poland, Morocco, Lithuania and Afghanistan, the five countries in which he was held in “black sites” over a period of four and a half years, and the UK, which is accused of having “participated in other ways in the ‘global spider’s web’ of complicity in rendition,” primarily via “estimates that UK personnel were involved in approximately 2,000-3,000 interviews of CIA detainees in the aftermath of 9/11”, as indicated by the findings of the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) in 2019.

In a press release, Duffy explains that this is “the first international case brought by Zubaydah against the United States,” and is also “the first time that international legal action is taken against the UK, Afghanistan, Morocco and Thailand for their complicity in the US rendition and secret detention program.” In addition it is “the first time that a case has been brought against all states participating in an individual’s rendition and torture and ongoing unlawful detention at Guantánamo.”

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US Military Closes Camp 7, Guantánamo’s “High-Value Detainee” Prison Block, Moves Men to Camp 5

A Google Earth image of the secretive Camp 7 at Guantánamo Bay.

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In news from Guantánamo, the US military announced yesterday that it had shut Camp 7, the secretive prison block where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other so-called “high-value detainees” have been held since their arrival at Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” in September 2006, and had moved the prisoners to Camp 5.

Modeled on a maximum security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, Camp 5, which cost $17.5 million, opened in 2004, and its solid-walled, isolated cells were used to hold prisoners regarded as non-compliant. As the prison’s population shrank, however, it was closed — in September 2016 — and its remaining prisoners transferred to Camp 6, which opened in 2006, and includes a communal area.

Camp 7, meanwhile, which cost $17 million, was also built in 2004. Two storeys tall, it was modeled on a maximum-security prison in Bunker Hill, Indiana, and, as Carol Rosenberg explained in the New York Times yesterday, had “a modest detainee health clinic and a psychiatric ward with a padded cell, but none of the hospice or end-of-life care capacity once envisioned by Pentagon planners.”

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“The Use of Power and Ideology in Guantánamo”: New Academic Paper Focuses On My Book “The Guantánamo Files”

The cover of Andy Worthington’s 2007 book “The Guantánamo Files.”

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Imagine my surprise last week when a post popped up on Facebook, which I was tagged in, that read, “The Use of Power and Ideology in Guantánamo: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Andy Worthington’s The Guantánamo Files.”

Clicking through, I found that it was an entire academic article focusing on my 2007 book The Guantánamo Files, published in the latest issue (June 2020) of the European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies, a publication by EA Journals (European-American Journals), part of the UK-based European Centre for Research Training and Development, which is “an independent organisation run by scholars mainly in the UK, USA, and Canada.”

Written and supported by students and supervisors at GC University, in Faisalabad, Pakistan, the abstract explains that “[t]he research deals with the use of power and ideology in Andy Worthington’s The Guantánamo Files (2007) as the narratives (generally called Gitmo narratives) of the detainees show the betrayal of American ideals, [the] US constitution and international laws about human rights. Since its inception, Guantánamo Bay Camp is an icon of American military power, hegemony and legal exceptionalism in the ‘Global War on Terror.’”

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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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