Held for 1,000 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman

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In the first of a new series of profiles of men held at Guantánamo — specifically, the 16 men (out of the 30 still held) who have long been approved for release by high-level US government review processes — I’m focusing on Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, a 43-year old Yemeni citizen, who, today, has been held for 1,000 days since the US authorities first decided that they no longer wanted to hold him.

Uthman arrived at Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, five days after the prison opened, when he was just 21 years old, and, as a result, he has been held for over half his life at Guantánamo. The photo is from his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and dating from April 2008, meaning that he would have been 27 years old, or younger, when it was taken.

Since his arrival at Guantánamo — 8,058 days ago (that’s 22 years and 22 days) — Uthman has been held without charge or trial, and with no sign of when, if ever, he will eventually be freed, even though the high-level government review process that approved him for release concluded unanimously, on May 13, 2021, that “continued law of war detention is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

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UN Finally Gets to Visit Guantánamo; Also Secures End to Trump-Era Ban on Prisoners Leaving With Their Artwork

One of the ships made at Guantánamo out of recycled materials by Moath al-Alwi, a Yemeni prisoner who was approved for release in December 2021, but is still held. A third country must be found that is prepared to offer him a new home, because provisions in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Republicans under President Obama, and maintained ever year since, prohibit the repatriation of Yemenis from Guantánamo.

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Finally, over 21 years after the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, a UN Rapporteur has visited the prison, to meet with prisoners as part of what a UN press release described as “a technical visit to the United States” by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

“Between 6 and 14 February,” as the UN explained, Ní Aoláin “will visit Washington D.C. and subsequently the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” and, over the next three months, “will also carry out a series of interviews with individuals in the United States and abroad … including victims and families of victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and former detainees in countries of resettlement/repatriation.”

Ever since Guantánamo opened, successive UN Rapporteurs for Torture tried to visit the prison, but were rebuffed, either by the hostility of the US government, or through a failure on the part of officials to guarantee that any meetings that took place with prisoners would not be monitored.

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Video: The Annual New America Panel Discussion About Guantánamo, Featuring Karen Greenberg, Tom Wilner and Myself

A screenshot of “Guantánamo at Twenty-One: What is the Future of the Prison Camp?”, an online panel discussion held by New America on Jan. 11, 2023, the 21st anniversary of the opening of the prison.

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Almost every year since 2011, the New America think-tank in Washington, D.C. has generously hosted panel discussions about Guantánamo with the attorney Tom Wilner and I, at which we have been joined by a number of other guests.

At the time of that first event, Barack Obama was the president, and 173 men were still held. In 2012 we marked the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening, also launching the Close Guantánamo campaign, returning every year thereafter, except for 2014, when Tom and I were both too dispirited to summon up any enthusiasm. The 2016 event coincided with a “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” campaign, launched by Andy and Roger Waters on Democracy Now!, to put pressure on Obama to finally fulfill his promise to get the prison closed, but, when Obama left office, 41 men were still held, who then had endure four years of hostility from a president who had no interest in releasing any of them.

Having moved the events online in 2021, because of Covid, Tom and I and our by now regular companion, Karen Greenberg, the Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, met again online a year ago to discuss Guantánamo on its 20th anniversary, when we were, I think it’s fair to say, caught been hope and pessimism, but this year, sadly, hope is losing that battle.

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UK Judges Rule That WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to the US, Accepting Risible US Assurances Regarding His Mental Health and Suicide Risk

A protestor opposing WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange’s proposed extradition to the US outside the Old Bailey in London on October 1, 2020 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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In a depressing but predictable ruling in the High Court in London today, two judges have overturned a lower court ruling preventing the extradition to the US of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, accepting US assurances that he will not be held in conditions that, as a result of his fragile mental state, would result in him committing suicide. The previous ruling, made in January this year by Judge Vanessa Baraitser, prevented his extradition because of the perceived suicide risk.

I happen to agree with his lawyers that the US assurances are fundamentally untrustworthy, as I explained in an article in October, Like a Wheedling Abuser, the US Makes Groundless Promises in Julian Assange’s Extradition Appeal, but what is particularly dispiriting about today’s ruling is how it wasn’t allowed to focus on the key reason why Assange shouldn’t be extradited, which had already been dismissed by Judge Baraitser; namely, that prosecuting a publisher for publishing confidential government documents (in this case leaked by Chelsea Manning) that highlight government wrongdoing — and even involvement in war crimes — is a necessary prerequisite for press freedom.

It is also worth noting, of course, that if Assange is to be prosecuted for publishing the material leaked by Chelsea Manning, then so too should the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and numerous other newspapers that worked with Assange on the publication of these documents.

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Biden’s Slow Progress on Closing Guantánamo

A composite image of President Biden and a tattered US flag at Guantánamo.

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An article last week by NBC News — “Biden quietly moves to start closing Guantánamo ahead of 20th anniversary of 9/11” — was widely shared by opponents of the continued existence of the shameful prison at Guantánamo Bay, but frustratingly failed to live up to the promise of its headline.

40 men are still held at Guantánamo, and nine of these men have been approved for release by high-level US government review processes — three in 2010, two in 2016, one in 2020, and three just last month, in decisions taken by the Periodic Review Boards set up under President Obama that show a willingness on the part of the Biden administration to recognize that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that continues to hold, indefinitely, men who have been held for up to 19 years, and have never been charged with a crime.

The PRBs reviewed the cases of 64 men under Obama, and approved 38 of them for release, but since then the process of reviewing the other 26 men has largely ossified into rigid threat assessments based on the initial decisions taken under Obama. That has finally changed with the recent decisions to approve three men for release, and it is to be hoped that further recommendations for release will be forthcoming in the PRBs, although none of this will mean anything if these men are not actually freed.

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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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