As Majid Khan Asks a Court to Order His Release from Guantánamo, 100 Days Since Completing His Sentence, 20 Other Prisoners, Never Charged or Tried, Also Await Their Freedom

Guantánamo prisoner Majid Khan, photographed as a student in 1999, and in recent years at Guantánamo.

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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 paper, the prospects for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay are better now than they have been at any other time in its unforgivably long and bleak 20-year history.

Just 37 men are still held (less than five percent of the total number of prisoners held by the US military since the prison opened on January 11, 2002), and 21 of these men have been approved for release.

The problem, however, is that there is absolutely no sense of urgency within the Biden administration when it comes to freeing them.

20 of these men have been approved for release by high-level government review processes, and I’ll be discussing them in the second part of this article, but the most newsworthy aspect of this story right now concerns Majid Khan, the other man approved for release.

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Sufyian Barhoumi Sent Home From Guantánamo to Algeria Nearly Five and a Half Years After Being Approved for Release; 19 Other Cleared Prisoners Remain

Sufyian Barhoumi, in a photo taken at Guantánamo in recent years by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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Great news from Guantánamo, as Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian who was approved for release in August 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established under President Obama, has finally been freed, sent back home to be reunited with his family

Barhoumi narrowly missed being released under Obama, was then stuck at Guantánamo for four years under Donald Trump — whose enthusiasm for Guantánamo was such that he released only one man during his four depressing years in office — and then had to wait another 14 months for President Biden to finally bring to an end his outrageous predicament — being approved for release but not actually being freed.

His release leaves just 37 men still held at Guantánamo, although it must be noted that over half of these men —19 in total — have also been approved for release: 14 since President Biden took office, one approved for release in October 2020, and three others who have been waiting for over 12 years, having been told that the US had no interest in continuing to hold them endlessly without charge or trial back in January 2010, when President Obama’s first review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, approved them for release. The other man awaiting release, as I wrote about two days ago, is Majid Khan, sentenced after a plea deal in the military commissions, whose sentence ended on March 1, but who is still held, despite the authorities having had ten years to arrange his release.

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Torture Victim Mohammed Al-Qahtani Finally Released from Guantánamo, Sent to Mental Health Facility in Saudi Arabia; But 19 Other Cleared Prisoners Remain

Mohammed al-Qahtani, photographed before his capture (on the left), in a photo provided by one of his lawyers, Ramzi Kassem, and, on the right, photographed at Guantánamo.

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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 Monday (March 7), Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo, who was shamefully tortured at the prison in 2002-03, despite suffering from schizophrenia, related to a car accident as a child, was released from Guantánamo, and sent back to Saudi Arabia to receive appropriate mental health care in a rehabilitation facility. His release brings to 38 the number of men still held at the prison.

Al-Qahtani had been tortured, over many months in Guantánamo’s first year of operations, because it had emerged that he had tried to get into the US in August 2001 to be the 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, but had been turned away by the authorities, presumably because he was incapable of disguising his already existing mental health problems. He then made his way to Afghanistan, where he was seized and sent to Guantánamo.

At Guantánamo, US personnel had been persistently unable to cope with his profound mental health problems, exacerbated by his torture, and yet it had taken until March 2020 for anyone in a position of authority to recognize that a valid case could be made that he should be sent back to Saudi Arabia because the authorities at Guantánamo were unable to adequately deal with his illness.

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Mentally Ill Torture Victim Mohammed Al-Qahtani Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Mohammed al-Qahtani, photographed before his capture, in 2001, and subsequently photographed at Guantánamo.

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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 February 4, another Guantánamo prisoner was approved for release from the prison by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established by President Obama, which led to the release of 36 men in his second term in office. Of the 39 men still held, 19 — very nearly half of those still imprisoned — have now been approved for release, with 14 of those decisions taking place since President Biden took office just over a year ago.

There was surprise in some quarters, because the prisoner in question, Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi, was, in Guantánamo’s early days, considered the 20th intended hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and was subjected to a specific torture program, approved by then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which, as the New York Times reported after the PRB decision was announced, involved him “undergo[ing] two months of continuous, brutal interrogation by the US military inside a wooden hut at Camp X-Ray in late 2002 and early 2003.”

The details of his torture shocked the world when a day-by-day interrogation log was leaked to Time magazine in 2006. As the Times described it, the log revealed how “military interrogators placed Mr. Qahtani in solitary confinement, stripped him naked, forcibly shaved him, and subjected him to prolonged sleep deprivation, dehydration, exposure to cold, and various psychological and sexual humiliations like making him bark like a dog, dance with a man and wear women’s underwear on his head.” As the Times added, “They extracted a confession, which he later recanted,” which included allegations that he had made against 30 other prisoners, falsely claiming that they were bodyguards of Osama bin Laden.

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Five More Prisoners Approved for Release from Guantánamo: 18 of the 39 Remaining Men Are Now Waiting to Be Freed

The five “forever prisoners” approved for release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Boards in November and December 2021. From L to R: Suhayl al-Sharabi, Guled Hassan Duran, Moath al-Alwi, Omar al-Rammah and Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu.

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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 run-up to the shameful 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, I had the sneaking suspicion that President Biden would seek to divert attention from his general inaction on Guantánamo in his first year in office by announcing that more of the facility’s “forever prisoners” had been approved for release.

In his first year in office, President Biden released just one prisoner, even though he inherited six men approved for release from the previous administrations, but crucially, via the Periodic Review Boards, the review process established by President Obama, he has also now approved an additional 13 men for release — one-third of the remaining 39 prisoners — bringing to 18 the total number of men still held who the US government has conceded that it no longer wants to hold.

This is definitely progress — although it means nothing until the men in question are actually released — but it does show a willingness to move towards the prison’s closure, and also indicates that the administration has taken on board the criticism of numerous former officials, and, in particular, 24 Senators and 75 members of the House of Representatives, who wrote to President Biden last year to point out how unacceptable it is that the government continues to hold men indefinitely without charge or trial.

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Video: The “Disrupt, Confront, and Close Guantánamo” 20th Anniversary Virtual Rally on Jan. 11, 2022

A screenshot of participants in “Disrupt, Confront, and Close Guantánamo,” a “Virtual Rally” for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, 2022.

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In the second of a series of articles linking to and promoting the videos of events held to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, 2022, I’m posting below the video of “Disrupt, Confront, and Close Guantánamo,” a powerful “Virtual Rally” organized by a number of groups, including Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Witness Against Torture, which, for the second year running, because of Covid concerns, formally replaced the live rally outside the White House that has been taking place for many years, and which I took part in every year from 2011 to 2020 — although I do want to point out that, this year, local activists from the Washington, D.C. area held an actual physical vigil outside the White House, which you can watch here.

Here’s the video of the “Virtual Rally”:

The “Virtual Rally” was compered by Lu Aya of the Peace Poets, and the speakers began with Aliya Hussain, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights, followed by Erika Guevara Rosas, the Americas Director at Amnesty International, and two remarkably eloquent young women, Jessica Murphy and Leila Murphy of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, whose father, Brian Joseph Murphy, was killed on 9/11.

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Is This Justice? After 18 Years of Torture, Isolation and Unprecedented Co-Operation, CIA and Guantánamo Prisoner Majid Khan Should Be Released in Feb. 2022

Majid Khan, photographed as a student in 1999, and in recent years at Guantánamo.

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On Thursday evening, in a military courtroom at Guantánamo Bay, Majid Khan, a Pakistani national who was held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for three years and four months after his initial capture in Pakistan in March 2003, and has been held at Guantánamo since September 2006, was finally allowed to tell the world the gruesome details about his treatment in the “black site” program, and at Guantánamo, in a statement that he read out at a sentencing hearing.

Some of the details of the torture to which Khan was subjected were made public nearly seven years ago, when the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was made public — in particular, the shocking revelation that he was one of several prisoners subjected to “rectal feeding,” whereby, as the report described it, his “‘lunch tray,’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.”

In his sentencing statement, however, which, as his lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights explain, made him “the first so-called ‘high-value detainee’ at Guantánamo who has been able to speak publicly about the CIA torture program,” he revealed much more than was ever previously known publicly. As Vince Warren, CCR’s Executive Director, said, “We knew about some of the horrors he was subjected to, like the so-called ‘rectal feeding,’ from the Senate torture report, but the new details in his own words were chilling. From the ice-bath waterboardings to the ‘Torture Doctor’ who put hot sauce on the tip of his IV, the acts committed by our government shock the conscience — yet no one has ever been held accountable.”

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Over 330,000 Concerned Citizens Sign a Petition Urging President Biden to Close Guantánamo

Campaigners outside the White House, on September 20, 2021, prepare to deliver a petition to President Biden, signed by over 330,000 concerned citizens, calling on him to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay without further delay.

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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 Monday, largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, campaigners delivered a petition to the White House, signed by over 330,000 people, urging President Biden to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. They were joined online by former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, whose Guantánamo memoir, “Don’t Forget Us Here,” was published last month.

This impressive achievement was coordinated by the progressive activist network Daily Kos, MPower Change, which describes itself as “the largest Muslim led social and racial justice organization in the United States,” and other organizations familiar to those engaged in the long struggle to get Guantánamo closed — Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Justice for Muslims Collective — as well as the Juggernaut Project, NorCal Resist, Progress America, the Progressive Reform Network, and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).

The date chosen was the 20th anniversary of George W. Bush’s declaration to Congress that the US was launching a “war on terror” in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. As Bush said on that day, “Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them. Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

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Who Are the Two “Forever Prisoners” Approved for Release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Boards?

Guantánamo protests over the years: on the left, Abdulsalam al-Hela’s children call for his release from Guantánamo in Yemen in 2005, and, on the right, Sharqawi al-Hajj’s attorney, Pardiss Kebriaei, calls for his release outside the White House on January 11, 2018.

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In extraordinary news from Guantánamo, two more “forever prisoners” — the Yemeni tribal leader Abdulsalam al-Hela, 53, and Sharqawi al-Hajj, 47, another Yemeni, and a long-term hunger striker — have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards, the parole-type system established under President Obama, to add to the three approved for release in May.

Eleven of the 40 men still held have now been approved for release — the five under Biden, one under Trump, the only two of the 38 men approved for release by the PRBs under Obama who didn’t manage to escape the prison before he left office, and three other men, still languishing in Guantánamo despite being approved for release by Obama’s first review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, in 2010.

No one who cares about the need for Guantánamo to be closed should be in any doubt about the significance of these decisions.

Both men arrived at Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” in September 2004, and were both regarded as being of significance when the Guantánamo Review Task Force published its report about what President Obama should do with the 240 prisoners he inherited from George W. Bush in January 2010. At that time, as was finally revealed when the Task Force’s “Dispositions” were released in June 2013, Sharqawi al-Hajj was one of 36 men “[r]eferred for prosecution,” while al-Hela was one of 48 others recommended for “[c]ontinued detention pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001), as informed by principles of the laws of war, subject to further review by the Principals prior to the detainee’s transfer to a detention facility in the United States.”

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A Celebration of Guantánamo Activism Past and Present by Witness Against Torture’s Jeremy Varon

Witness Against Torture activists occupy the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on January 11, 2014, the 12th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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The following cross-posted article, with my introduction, was originally published on 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.

Two weeks ago, we marked 7,000 days of Guantánamo’s existence as part of our ongoing photo campaign, with supporters sending in photos of themselves holding up posters marking how long the prison had been open, and urging President Biden to close it.

Since President Biden’s inauguration two months ago, his administration has thrown only a few crumbs of hope to campaigners for the closure of the prison, with which we have had to sustain ourselves — defense secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin telling the Senate that it’s “time for Guantánamo to close its doors,” and press secretary Jen Psaki announcing a “robust” review of the prison, in the 20th year of its operations, and the administration’s “intention” to close it.

As we await further news, we’re delighted that a great friend of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, Jeremy Varon, has written a detailed article for Waging Nonviolence, “an independent, non-profit media platform dedicated to providing original reporting and expert analysis of social movements around the world.”

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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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