What Happened to the Prisoners the US Abandoned at Bagram, Once Known as Guantánamo’s Dark Mirror?

Bagram and a huge US flag" a photo by Edmund Clark from his project 'The Mountains of Majeed.'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.


My thanks to Jenifer Fenton, for remembering the foreign nationals that the US left behind when it handed over Bagram prison in Afghanistan to the Afghan authorities in December 2014.

I used to write regularly about Bagram, a place of notorious torture and abuse, where an undisclosed number of prisoners died at the hands of US forces, because it had been the main processing prison for Guantánamo, and, under Barack Obama, had become a legal battlefield, as lawyers tried to secure habeas corpus rights for the men held there, so that they would at least have had comparable rights to the prisoners held at Guantánamo, who secured constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights via the Supreme Court in June 2008, even though appeals court judges subsequently gutted habeas of all meaning for them. My extensive archive of articles about Bagram is here, and in 2010 I published the first annotated list of all the prisoners held there.

Bagram was re-named the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009, and the old Soviet building that had housed America’s notorious prison — as horrendous as Abu Ghraib in Iraq, but without the photographic evidence to prove it — was subsequently destroyed by the US. The prison was handed over to the Afghan authorities in March 2013, with the final relinquishing of control taking place at the end of December 2014. Prior to this, in September 2014, I covered the US’s efforts to repatriate prisoners it had held there, in an article entitled, Two Long-Term Yemeni Prisoners Repatriated from Bagram; Are Guantánamo Yemenis Next?, in which I noted how a US military official had told the Washington Post that, at the time, the number of prisoners in US custody in Bagram — none of whom were Afghans — was down to 27. By the time of the final handover, there were just six foreign nationals held, and two of these men — Tunisians previously held in “black sites” — were freed in 2015. For an update from December 2014, see this Newsweek article, and other links here. Also see this Afghan Analysts Network article by Kate Clark from May 2017. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years After His Release From Guantánamo, Sami al-Hajj Publishes His Compelling Memoir, ‘Prisoner 345,’ Free Via Al-Jazeera

'Prisoner 345': the front cover of Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj's account of his six and a half years in US custody in the "war on terror," in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo. 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.


Just over ten years ago, on May 1, 2008, one of the better-known prisoners at Guantánamo, the Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj (aka al-Haj), was freed from the prison and repatriated to his home country of Sudan. I meant to mark the occasion with an article, but, at the time, I was caught up in issues involving my campaigning for social housing in the UK, and the local government elections that took place on May 3.

Now, however, belatedly, I’m getting round to it, as I want to promote ‘Prisoner 345: My Six Years in Guantánamo,’ Sami’s powerful and emotional account of his capture and imprisonment, which is available for free as a PDF via Al-Jazeera.

Sami’s story was of particular interest during his imprisonment because he was working for Al-Jazeera as a journalist and cameraman at the time of his capture, and his captors quite shamelessly tried to get him to work for them instead — as well as very publicly threatening the Qatar-based channel by imprisoning, without charge or trial, one of their journalists. Read the rest of this entry »

My New Article for Al Jazeera English: The Struggle to Stop the Trump Administration’s Potentially Deadly Neglect of Guantánamo Hunger Strikers

An image of Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at the lawyer-led international human rights organization Reprieve.I’m delighted to report that Al Jazeera English have just published an article I wrote for them, Guantánamo detainee: US changed force-feeding policy, which I hope you have time to read, and will share if you find it informative.

The article came out of the shocking news announced by the human rights organization Reprieve six weeks ago, when they reported that they had been told that the authorities at Guantánamo were no longer force-feeding long-term hunger strikers, as had been happening for ten years — an announcement that I wrote about at the time in an article entitled, Trump’s Disturbing New Guantánamo Policy: Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve to Death.

Force-feeding is akin to torture, as medical experts have long established, but, as I have been mentioning since this story broke, it surely cannot be acceptable for men who have been held for up to 16 years without ever being charged or tried to be allowed to starve to death, and there should, therefore, be another response, one sought by the prisoners themselves, who are asking either to be charged or released, a not unreasonable request after so long. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera About the Five Men Still Held at Guantánamo Who Were Approved for Release Under Obama

A screenshot of my latest article for Al-Jazeera on June 30, 2017.Dear friends and supporters — and any casual passers-by,

I’m delighted to announce that my latest article for Al-Jazeera, Abdul Latif Nasser: Facing life in Guantánamo, has just been published, and I encourage you to read it, and to share it as widely as possible if you find it useful.

In it, I look at the cases of the five men still held at Guantánamo who were approved for release under President Obama, but who didn’t make it out before Donald Trump took over, with a particular focus on Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan whose government sought his release, but failed to get the paperwork to the US authorities in time. I also look at the cases of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian, and Tawfiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni. The two other men, sadly, don’t wish to have their cases discussed.

It’s important for these men’s cases to be remembered, because, although Donald Trump has not followed up on threats he made after taking office to send new prisoners to Guantánamo and to reintroduce torture, he has effectively sealed the prison shut for the last five months, releasing no one, and showing no signs of wanting to release anyone, and those of us who care about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo must continue to do what we can to bring this deplorable state of affairs to an end. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Interview on 15th Anniversary of Guantánamo Opening: US Government “Lied to Their Own People to Let Their Soldiers Accept Torturing Us”

Andy Worthington with Shaker Aamer, after his release from Guantanamo, at a meeting in the House of Commons in November 2015.Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 15th anniversary of its opening, and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.


Regular readers will know that I have had a long involvement in the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed in October 2015 after a long campaign to secure his release, which involved MPs, the mainstream British media, and protest groups including We Stand With Shaker, the organization I co-founded in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes, which used a giant inflatable figure of Shaker to highlight his cause, with some quite spectacular success in the media, and with celebrities and MPs.

Since his release, I have maintained contact with Shaker, and, in October, was delighted when he agreed to make a short video for the Close Guantánamo campaign — another organization I co-founded — which is posted below.

Apart from a flurry of activity immediately after his release, Shaker has had little involvement with the media this year, although his words always have resonance, so I was delighted to see, a few days ago, that he had spoken to Al-Jazeera. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera, on Obama and Trump, Guantánamo and Torture

A screenshot of my latest article for Al-Jazeera on the website.Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read Obama v Trump on Guantánamo and torture, my latest article for Al-Jazeera, and to share it if you find it informative.

Al-Jazeera asked me to compare and contrast the president and the president-elect in relation to Guantánamo, giving me an opportunity to run through the history of President Obama’s failures to close the prison, as he promised when he first took office in January 2009. I also briefly discussed Obama’s position on torture, and compared and contrasted Donald Trump’s views.

President Obama has repeatedly blamed Congress for his failure to close the prison, but in fact he had control of Congress in his first two years in office, but failed to capitalise on it, and later, although Congress raised considerable obstacles to his efforts to close the prison, he refused to use a waiver that existed in the legislation allowing him to bypass Congress, and he also refused, at any point, to make the closure of the prison a priority to the extent that he was prepared to properly challenge Congress and work with supportive lawmakers to find a way to get Guantánamo closed. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera, About How Torture Victims in Guantánamo Should Be Allowed a Visit by UN Rapporteur Juan Méndez

Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al-Baluchi), photographed in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the red Cross, in a photo made available to his family and later released to the public.Yesterday, I was delighted that Al-Jazeera published my op-ed, “Guantánamo torture victims should be allowed UN visit,” the first op-ed I’ve written for Al-Jazeera for over a year a a half. You can check out my archive of Al-Jazeera articles here.

The op-ed came about as a result of my recently renewed focus on the military commissions at Guantánamo, a broken system that is incapable of delivering justice to the ten men still held who are facing — or have faced — military commission trials. For more, see my recent articles, Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and Guantánamo’s Military Commissions: More Chaos in the Cases of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Majid Khan, and also my recent update of The Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo.

61 men are still held at Guantánamo, and while 20 have been approved for release, and will hopefully be freed soon, and 23 others continue to be held without charge or trial, those men are, at least, subject to periodic reviews of their cases, whereas those facing trials are caught in a system that is proceeding with such glacial slowness that it is uncertain if a date for their trials can be set with any kind of certainty, and this, of course, is a profound failure of justice considering that they have been in US custody for up to 14 years. Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Prisoner to Arrive at Guantánamo, an Afghan Fascinated with US Culture, Asks Review Board to Approve His Release

Afghan prisoner Muhammad Rahim, in a photo taken in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.On August 4, Muhammad Rahim, an Afghan, became the 56th Guantánamo prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs were set up in 2013, and are reviewing the cases of all the prisoners still held who are not facing trials (just ten of the remaining 76 prisoners) or who were not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

33 men have so far been approved for release via the PRBs (and eleven have been released), while 17 have had their ongoing imprisonment held. This is a 67% success rate for the prisoners, and it ought to be embarrassing for the Obama administration, whose task force had concluded that they were “too dangerous to release” or that they should be prosecuted. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further information.

Muhammad Rahim, who was born in November or December 1965, was the last prisoner to arrive at Guantánamo, in March 2008, when he was described as “a close associate” of Osama bin Laden. He has been described as a “high-value detainee” — one of only 16 held at the prison — but if this was the case he would surely have been put forward for prosecution, suggesting that, as with so many of the prisoners held at Guantánamo, his significance has been exaggerated. Read the rest of this entry »

Videos: On 14th Anniversary of Opening of Guantánamo, Andy Worthington Speaks Outside the White House, Shaker Aamer Speaks in London

Andy Worthington (center) and Aliya Hussain of the Center for Constitutional Rights outside the White House on January 11, 2016, the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison. Behind Andy is the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that was at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign (Photo: Justin Norman for Witness Against Torture).Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and I was honored to attend a powerful protest outside the White House, featuring representatives of over a dozen rights groups, and with prominent roles played by the activists of Witness Against Torture. I had spent much of the previous day at the church where many dozens of them are staying, engaged in a 10-day fast and daily actions across the capital aimed at raising awareness of the injustice of Guantánamo and the plight of the men held there, and, in the evening, had joined them and representatives of Code Pink, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other organizations at “Visions of Homecoming: Close Guantánamo!

This was an event celebrating the groups’ visit to Cuba in November, where I also spoke about We Stand With Shaker (the campaign I co-founded in November 2014, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison) and played “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote that, with my band The Four Fathers, featured in the We Stand With Shaker campaign video (and on our album “Love and War“). Other performances on the night came from The Peace Poets, spoken word artists from the Bronx who I always find wonderfully uplifting, combining sharp rhymes and tough themes with an extraordinary humanity. I hope to post videos of performances from the evening in the near future — including my own!

At yesterday’s rally, I spoke about the success of the campaign to release Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, from the prison, but stressed how hard it had been to get just one man freed to America’s closest ally, involving the concerted efforts of many dozens of MPs and a range newspapers from across the political spectrum, campaigners and members of the general public, and even a request for action from David Cameron to Barack Obama. Read the rest of this entry »

A Hunger for Justice at Guantánamo as Witness Against Torture Video of Thanksgiving Fast Gets 900,000 Views

Witness Against Torture activists in Cuba, staging a fast on Thanksgiving Day in solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners (Photo: Justin Norman).It’s rare that Guantánamo, and the plight of the men still held there — mostly for nearly 14 years, and nearly all without charge or trial — gets significant media coverage. The last time was in 2013, after the prisoners themselves grabbed the world’s attention by embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike. Two petitions launched at the time (on Avaaz and Change.org) secured, between them, nearly a million signatures, and contributed to the exertion of such pressure on President Obama, both domestically and internationally, that he promised to resume releasing prisoners, after nearly three years of inaction prompted by cynical obstructions raised by Congress and an unwillingness on the president’s part to spend political capital overcoming those obstructions, even though he had the means to do so.

Since then, President Obama has released 59 men, which is progress, but 107 remain, and 48 of those men have also been approved for release, most since 2009, when the high-level inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama shortly after taking office, reviewed the cases of all the men still held, and recommended releasing them (156 men), putting them on trial (36 men, later reduced to 10), or continuing to hold them without charge or trial (48, later raised to 71), on the extremely flimsy basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

Last week, activists from Witness Against Torture, a campaigning group that announced itself to the world in December 2005 by visiting Cuba and protesting outside Guantánamo, revisited its origins on its 10th anniversary, repeating its protest after 14 members of the group attended a peace conference in Havana. The Guardian covered the story, which was soon picked up on by other media outlets. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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