Guantánamo Scandal: Eleven Men Were Set to Be Freed Last October, Until “Political Optics” Shifted After Hamas’ Attack on Israel

The eleven Yemeni prisoners who were supposed to be resettled in Oman in October 2023. Top row, from L to R: Moath Al-Alwi, Khaled Qassim, Toffiq Al-Bihani, Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah, Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman. Middle row: Sharqawi Al-Hajj, Abdulsalam Al-Hela, Sanad Al-Kazimi, Suhayl Al-Sharabi, Zakaria Al-Baidany. Bottom row: Hassan Bin Attash.

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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.

Thanks to NBC News, and the four anonymous US government officials who spoke to them, for exposing the latest scandal involving the US prison at Guantánamo Bay — the refusal of the Biden administration to release eleven men, for whom long months of negotiation had secured a safe and viable resettlement option, because of the perceived “political optics” of freeing them after the attacks on Israel by Hamas and other militants on October 7.

Within Guantánamo circles, this scandal was well known, but attorneys for the men had been subjected to a Protective Order issued by the government, preventing them from talking about it, and, as a result, they had all dutifully kept quiet, as had others, like myself, who had got to know about it.

Their silence is, in itself, an indictment of how the US government operates at Guantánamo, as I also recognised when I refused to publicize it, because of the fundamentally lawless situation in which these men are held.

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Photos and Report: Eight Global Vigils for the Closure of Guantánamo on February 7, 2024

Photos from the coordinated global vigils for the closure of Guantánamo on February 7, 2024. Clockwise, from top L, Washington, D.C., London, Mexico City and Cobleskill, NY.

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As the prison at Guantánamo Bay continues its miserable existence, now in its 23rd year of denying justice to the men held, and betraying every legal principle that is supposed to distinguish the US from dictatorships, I’m grateful to the campaigners across the US, and around the world, who, following the annual protests for Guantánamo’s closure on January 11, the 22nd anniversary of its opening, have resumed the monthly vigils that I initiated a year ago to try to keep a light shining on Guantánamo once a month rather than just once a year.

Via organizations including numerous Amnesty International groups, the UK Guantánamo Network, Witness Against Torture and The World Can’t Wait, vigils took place on Wednesday (February 7) in Washington, D.C., Cobleskill, NY, Detroit and San Francisco, as well as in Mexico City and London, where I joined fellow campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament, and in Brussels and Copenhagen, where campaigners held their vigils on the preceding days.

Campaigners outside the White House in Washington, D.C. on February 7, 2024.

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Close Guantánamo: Our Achievements in 2023, Marking Guantánamo’s 22nd Anniversary on Jan. 11, and What We Can Do in 2024

Photos from the coordinated global vigils for the closure of Guantánamo on Wednesday June 7, 2023. Clockwise, from top L, London, Washington, D.C., Brussels and Detroit.

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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.

Thanks to everyone who took part in events marking the 22nd anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11 — via the 20 vigils for the prison’s closure that took place across the US and around the world, via our ongoing photo campaign, for which over 120 people sent in photos of themselves with a poster marking 8,036 days of the prison’s existence on January 11, and calling for its closure, and via a number of online events.

One of these events was an online panel discussion, hosted by the New America think-tank in Washington, D.C., at which I was joined by the eloquent former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, who, until recently, was the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism.

Last year, Fionnuala became the first UN Rapporteur to visit the prison, subsequently producing what I described at the time as “a devastatingly critical report about systemic, historic and ongoing human rights abuses at the prison,” in which she concluded that, despite some improvements to the regime under Presidents Obama and Biden, the totality of ongoing conditions at the prison amounts to “ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” which, in certain cases, “may also meet the legal threshold for torture.”

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Video: Guantánamo at 22 – Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin and Andy Worthington at New America

A screenshot of “Guantánamo at Twenty-Two: What is the Future of the Prison Camp?”, hosted by New America on January 11, 2024.

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On January 11, the 22nd anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I was delighted to take part in an online panel discussion, “Guantánamo at Twenty-Two: What is the Future of the Prison Camp?”, hosted by New America, the US think-tank located close to the White House in Washington, D.C.

I’ve been taking part in annual panel discussions about Guantánamo at New America since 2011, normally with Tom Wilner, the US attorney with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign in 2012, but this year Tom wasn’t available, and I was pleased that my suggestions for two compelling replacements — former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the author of the best-selling Guantánamo Diary, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism — were met with enthusiasm.

The moderator was Peter Bergen, New America’s Vice President, and the video, via YouTube, is posted below. It was a powerful event, and I hope that you have time to watch it, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

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Video and Report: The Incredibly Powerful “Close Guantánamo!” Event in the EU Parliament, September 28, 2023

A photo taken at the end of the “Close Guantánamo!” event in the EU Parliament on September 28, 2023. In the front row, from L to R, Alka Pradhan, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Lakhdar Boumediene, Belgian former Guantánamo prisoner Moussa Zemmouri, Moazzam Begg, Andy Worthington, Mansoor Adayfi, Clare Daly, James Yee, Valerie Lucznikowska, Mick Wallace and Beth Jacob.

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I’m just back from the most extraordinary three-day trip to Brussels, the centrepiece of which was “Close Guantánamo!,” an astonishing and deeply moving three-hour event in the EU Parliament featuring nine speakers.

Three of the speakers were former prisoners, including Mansoor Adayfi, held for over 14 years at Guantánamo and subsequently resettled in Serbia, where, after nearly seven years, he has only this year secured a passport and been able to travel outside the country. Also speaking were two lawyers, a UN Rapporteur and myself, as well as the former Muslim Chaplain at the prison, and the relative of a victim of the 9/11 attacks.

The full video is below, via YouTube, and I hope that you have time to watch it, and that you’ll share if if you find it as inspiring as those who attended it, and those who took part in it. An edited version will hopefully be available soon, including the contents of PowerPoint presentations that were made by some of the speakers, which are not visible in this recording of the event, and the removal of some of the dead time — for example, the general milling about between the first and second sessions.

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Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo’s Collapsing Trials and “Forever Prisoners” with Misty Winston on TNT Radio

A promotional image for my interview with Misty Winston on TNT Radio on September 17, 2023.

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On Monday, I was delighted to talk — for the first time in a while — with the US-based radio host Misty Winston, a fiercely independent thinker (and a massive supporter of Julian Assange) for her show on TNT Radio, an Australian-based online radio station that is more generally known for indulging conspiracy theorists. Misty is a great supporter of my work, and frequently amplifies my posts on Twitter — sorry, X — where she has over 70,000 followers, and I’m honoured that, on her Substack, she chose to describe me as a “legend”, a “fighter” and a “relentless champion.”

Our interview is available here, starting 19 minutes into the show, and I’ve also embedded it below (although in the embed you can’t fast forward as easily as in the link above).

We began by looking at the situation at Guantánamo right now, where 30 men are still held, 16 of whom have been unanimously approved for release by high-level government review processes, although, as I explained, despite being approved for release they continue to languish at Guantánamo with no sign of when, if ever, they will actually be freed. This is in spite of the fact that, as of September 6, they had been waiting to be freed for between 348 and 1,013 days, and, in three cases, 4,975 days.

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Sep. 28: EU Parliament Holds “Most Significant Gathering Ever Assembled on Guantánamo”, With Former Prisoners, Lawyers, Myself and Others

The flier for the “Close Guantánamo” event at the European Parliament on Thursday September 28, 2023.

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POSTSCRIPT: See here for my report about, and the video of the event, plus photos.

On Thursday September 28, a very special event, described by its organizers as “the most significant gathering ever assembled on Guantánamo in the European Parliament,” is taking place in Brussels.

Ten speakers will be taking part in the event, which runs from 9am until noon. Three are former prisoners — Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni held for 14 years, who was resettled in Serbia in 2016, and is the author of the devastating memoir, “Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo,” published in 2021, which manages, simultaneously, to be harrowing, hilarious and full of humanity; Moazzam Begg, the author of “Enemy Combatant,” published in 2006; and Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian resettled in France in 2009, who is the co-author, with Mustafa Art Idr, of “Witnesses of the Unseen: Seven Years in Guantánamo,” published in 2017.

Also attending is Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, who was the first Rapporteur to visit Guantánamo, earlier this year, and whose devastating report, published in June, described an ongoing regime that, despite some tinkering by Presidents Obama and Biden, constitutes, as she described it, “ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” which “may also meet the legal threshold for torture.”

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“Forever Prisoner” Muhammad Rahim, the Last Afghan in Guantánamo, Eloquently Pleads For His Release

Muhammad Rahim, photographed at Guantánamo in recent years by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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On August 15, completely unremarked on by the mainstream media, Muhammad Rahim, the last Afghan held at Guantánamo, issued a heartfelt and eloquent plea for a panel of military and intelligence officers to approve his release from the prison, where he has been held for over 15 years without charge or trial.

Rahim, who is 57 years old, and in poor health, made his plea at a Periodic Review Board hearing, a process described by the media, when they can be bothered to pay attention to it, as a type of parole hearing — disregarding the crucial aspect that distinguishes it from parole hearings in the federal prison system, where the men given an opportunity to ask for their freedom have been convicted of a crime in federal court, and have received a prison sentence as a result.

Established under President Obama, the Periodic Review Boards were created to review the cases of men regarded as “too dangerous to release,” but against whom insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — men accurately described as “forever prisoners.” Since November 2013, 58 men have been approved for release by PRBs, with 20 of those decisions taking place since President Biden took office (although most of those 20 men, shamefully, have not yet been freed).

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After First Ever Guantánamo Visit, UN Rapporteur Finds Dehumanized, Traumatized Men Subjected to Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment That May Rise to the Level of Torture

Campaigners for the closure of Guantánamo outside a US government building in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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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 June 26, 7,837 days since the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, and on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council (“independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective”) issued a devastatingly critical report about systemic, historic and ongoing human rights abuses at the prison, based on the first ever visit by a Special Rapporteur — Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, who visited the prison in February.

At the time of her visit, just 34 men were held at the prison (a number now reduced to 30), out of the 779 men and boys who have been held by the US military throughout the prison’s long history, and, as the Special Rapporteur admitted, she agreed with every “detainee or former detainee,” who, “[i]n every meeting she held” with them, told her, “with great regret,” that she had arrived “too late.”

However, it is crucial to understand that the lateness of the visit was not through a lack of effort on the part of the UN; rather, it was a result of a persistent lack of cooperation by the US authorities — part of a pattern of obstruction, secrecy and surveillance that prevented any UN visit because the authorities failed to comply with the Terms of Reference for Country Visits by Special Procedure Mandate Holders, which require “[c]onfidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and other private persons, including persons deprived of their liberty.”

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The Broken Old Men of Guantánamo

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, the most physically disabled of Guantánamo’s 30 remaining prisoners, whose inadequate medical treatment at the prison was recently condemned in a scathing UN report.

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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 recent months, an often-submerged story at Guantánamo — of aging torture victims with increasingly complex medical requirements, trapped in a broken justice system, and of the US government’s inability to care for them adequately — has surfaced though a number of reports that are finally shining a light on the darkest aspects of a malignant 21-year experiment that, throughout this whole time, has regularly trawled the darkest recesses of American depravity.

Over the years, those of us who have devoted our energies to getting the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed have tended to focus on getting prisoners never charged with a crime released, because, since the Bush years, when, largely without meeting much resistance, George W. Bush released two-thirds of the 779 men and boys rounded up so haphazardly in the years following the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, getting prisoners out of Guantánamo has increasingly resembled getting blood out of a stone.

Apart from a brief period from 2008 to 2010, when the law finally reached Guantánamo through habeas corpus (before cynical appeals court judges took it away again), getting out of Guantánamo has involved overcoming government inertia (for several years under Obama) or open hostility (under Trump), repeated administrative review processes characterized by extreme caution regarding prisoners never charged with a crime, and against whom the supposed evidence is, to say the least, flimsy (which led to over 60 men being accurately described by the media as “forever prisoners”), and many dozens of cases in which, when finally approved for release because of this fundamental lack of evidence, the men in question have had to wait (often for years) for new homes to be found for them in third countries.

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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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