Global Events Marking the 22nd Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo on Jan. 11

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House 12 years ago, on January 11, 2012.

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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.

Next Thursday, January 11, the US government’s shameful and disgraceful “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 22 years, and a number of online events, as well as in-person vigils and rallies, are taking place across the US and around the world, which are listed below.

This is an unforgivable anniversary for a prison that should never have existed, where men continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial, or mired in a broken trial system, the military commissions, that is incapable of delivering justice.

Guantánamo’s continued existence ought to be a source of profound shame for the three branches of the US government — the executive, Congress and the judiciary — who have all failed to close it, for the mainstream US media, who have largely failed to recognize the gravity of the crimes committed there over the last 22 years, and for the majority of the American people, who have failed to take an interest in what is being done in their name in this secretive prison on the grounds of a US naval base on the shore of Cuba’s easternmost bay.

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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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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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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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Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo, Saifullah Paracha and the Plight of the Men Approved for Release on WSLR 96.5 in Florida

Andy Worthington, calling for the closure of Guantánamo outside the White House on January 11, 2020, and Saifullah Paracha, photographed after his release from the prison in November 2022.

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Many thanks to Bob Connors and Tom Walker of WSLR 96.5, a progressive community radio station in Sarasota, Florida, for having me on their show, “The Peace & Justice Report,” on Wednesday. As the hosts explain, the show “covers local, state, national and international social justice issues,” featuring “a wide variety of guests whose views are underrepresented in the mainstream media,” including “peace activists who are devoting their lives to creating a world free from war, violence and environmental destruction.”

I’ve spoken to Bob and Tom before — in 2018, 2019 and last year —and it was great to talk to them again, not only because they are such welcoming hosts, but also because far too few radio shows in the US — or around the world — devote any time at all to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo.

Our 22-minute interview is embedded below, and I hope you have time to listen to it, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

Andy Worthington on the Peace & Justice Report with Bob Connors and Tom Walker on WSLR 96.5 in Sarasota, Florida, November 9, 2022.

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President Biden’s Decisive Moves Towards the Closure of the Prison at Guantánamo Bay

A collage of Joe Biden and the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

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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.

When President Biden was elected in November 2020, opponents of the continued existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay were cautiously optimistic that there would be renewed movement towards the closure of the prison.

After four years of Donald Trump, it was hard not to have some semblance of hope that there would be progress towards finally ridding the US — and the world — of this lingering symbol of the brutal and lawless excesses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” where men have been subjected to torture and other forms of abuse, and where the majority of the 779 men held by the military since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 have been imprisoned without charge or trial, and with little effort made to ensure that the law extended to them in any meaningful sense.

Nearly two years into Biden’s presidency, our cautious optimism has been both rewarded and thwarted.

No doubt chastened by the Republican backlash that greeted President Obama’s stated intention, as soon as he took office, of closing Guantánamo within a year, Biden took a low-key approach instead — not speaking openly about Guantánamo at all, and only indicating, via his press secretary, that there would be a review of the prison’s operations, and that the administration hoped to close it by the end of his presidency.

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Completely Unnoticed, CIA Torture Victim Abu Faraj Al-Libi Has His Ongoing Imprisonment Without Charge or Trial Approved by a Guantánamo Review Board

“High-value detainee” Abu Faraj al-Libi, photographed at Guantánamo in recent years, and in a “wanted” poster prior to his capture in Pakistan in 2005.

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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 August 23, a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo (an administrative, parole-type review process established by President Obama, featuring high-level US government officials) approved the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of Abu Faraj al-Libi, one of 14 “high-value detainees” who were brought to Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” in September 2006, and the last of the 14 to be captured.

Al-Libi’s hearing took place on June 23, and was the first time he had engaged with the PRB process since it was established in 2013. This ought to be have been newsworthy, but, in fairness, no media outlet could have been expected to know that he would finally deign to appear at the hearing, after refusing to take part in any previous opportunities to engage with the US authorities — or with the wider world.

However, it is a sad sign of the general lack of media interest in the shameful extra-judicial world of Guantánamo, where he has been held for 16 years without charge or trial, that only one media outlet — the New York Times — even bothered to find out what the board decided in his case after this first, momentous personal appearance, with veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg tweeting on August 29, “Just in: The Guantánamo review board has upheld the indefinite detention of the never charged former CIA prisoner called Abu Faraj al-Libi.”

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Joy as the Talented Artist Khaled Qassim is Approved for Release from Guantánamo, But When Will He Be Freed?

Khaled Qassim, in an undated photo taken at Guantánamo in the early years of his imprisonment.

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20 years and two months since the Yemeni prisoner Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim) arrived at Guantánamo, where he has been held ever since without charge or trial, he has finally been approved for release. 25 years old at the time his capture, and frozen in time in the only known photo of him, taken at Guantánamo in the early years of his imprisonment, he is now 45 years old, and has, as a result, spent almost half his life at the prison.

The announcement that Khaled has been approved for release is wonderful news, as those of us who have been studying Guantánamo closely know that he is a talented artist (I posted an article about his art when it was shown in New York two years ago), and, in addition, we learned via his close friend, the released prisoner and author Mansoor Adayfi, that he is also a natural leader, a beautiful singer, a writer, a teacher and a talented football player.

Mansoor told us that Khaled’s natural leadership abilities meant that, in 2010, a Navy Commander said of him, “We like Khalid to represent all the detainees. He talks like a poet when he speaks on behalf of the detainees, and he’s an easy man to deal with,” although he was also, in the prison’s early years, a persistent hunger striker, one of around dozen young, mainly Yemeni prisoners who, as Adayfi explained in his powerful memoir, “Don’t Forget Us Here,” published last year, countered the US’s brutality and injustice with perpetual resistance, as did Adayfi himself.

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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).

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

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.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

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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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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