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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Held for 900 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Sanad Al-Kazimi, a Yemeni Torture Victim

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Today marks 900 days since Sanad al-Kazimi, a 54-year old Yemeni, and a father of four, was unanimously approved for release from Guantánamo by a Periodic Review Board, a high-level US government review process established under President Obama.

This article, telling his story, is the ninth in an ongoing series of ten articles, published since early February, telling the stories of the 16 men (out of 30 still held at Guantánamo in total) who have long been approved for release. The articles are published alternately here and on the Close Guantánamo website, with their publication tied into significant dates in their long ordeal.

While most of the 779 men held at Guantánamo since it opened over 22 years ago were picked up — or bought — in Afghanistan or Pakistan and processed through military prisons in Afghanistan before their arrival at  Guantánamo (mostly between December 2001 and November 2003), al-Kazimi was one of around 40 prisoners whose arrival at Guantánamo involved a more circuitous route, through the network of CIA “black sites” established and run in other countries between March 2002 and September 2006, and, in some cases, in proxy prisons in other countries run on behalf of the CIA.

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Held for 600 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Khaled Qassim, a Talented Artist

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Sunday (March 10) marked 600 days since Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), a 47-year old Yemeni, was unanimously approved for release from Guantánamo by a Periodic Review Board, a high-level US government review process.

That decision took place on July 19, 2022, but nearly 20 months later Khaled is still awaiting his freedom, a victim, like the 15 other men unanimously approved for release by high-level US government review processes, of an inertia at the very top of the US government — in the White House, and in the offices of Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State.

For the last year and a half, an official in the State Department — former ambassador Tina Kaidanow — has been working on resettling the men approved for release, most of whom, like Khaled, are Yemenis, and cannot be sent home because of a ban on their repatriation, inserted by Republicans into the annual National Defense Authorization Act in the early days of Barack Obama’s presidency, and renewed every year since.

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On Gorilla Radio, Chris Cook Plays ‘Warriors’, and We Discuss Julian Assange, Guantánamo, Genocide in Gaza and George Galloway

The cover of ‘Warriors’ by The Four Fathers, and the poster showing the 16 men approved for release from Guantánamo who are still held.

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Thanks to Chris Cook for having me on his Gorilla Radio show in Victoria, in western Canada on Wednesday to talk about a number of topics. The one-hour show is available here, on Chris’s Substack account, and my interview took part in the first half.

Chris began by asking me about the recent by-election victory, here in the UK, of George Galloway, the former Labour MP, who destroyed both Labour and the Tories on a platform opposing their unconditional support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza, which, of course, is also opposed by a majority of the population. As he stated in a tweet after his victory, “Gaza is the moral centre of the world right now.”

Chris asked me about the government’s hysterical response, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivering a special address to the nation to complain about the threat posed by a democratically-elected MP, but with, of course, a darker undercurrent of groundless suggestions that British democracy is under threat from “Islamist extremists” — all part of the desperate, flailing efforts of the British establishment to criminalize all criticism of Israel’s actions as anti-semitic.

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Held for 800 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Moath Al-Alwi, Zakaria Al-Baidany and Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu

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This is the fifth in a new series of ten articles, alternately posted here and on the Close Guantánamo website, telling the stories of the 16 men still held at Guantánamo (out of 30 men in total), who have long been approved for release from the prison by high-level US government review processes, but have no idea of when, if ever, they will actually be freed. The first four articles are here, here, here and here.

Shamefully, these men are still held because the reviews were purely administrative, meaning that no legal mechanism exists to compel the US government to free them, if, as is apparent, senior officials are unwilling to prioritize their release.

To be fair, most of these men cannot be repatriated, because of US laws preventing the return of men from Guantánamo to countries including Yemen, where most of the men are from, but if senior officials — especially President Biden and Antony Blinken — cared enough, these men would already have been freed, and the suspicion, sadly, must be that they are failing to do anything because the they don’t want to upset the handful of Republican lawmakers who are fanatical in their support for Guantánamo’s continued existence, while they seek the GOP’s cooperation in funding military support for Israel and Ukraine.

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Held for 5,150 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Toffiq Al-Bihani and Two “Ghosts,” Ridah Al-Yazidi and Muieen Abd Al-Sattar

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Three weeks ago, I began a new Guantánamo project, telling the stories of the 16 men who have been approved for release from the prison, in an effort to humanize them, to remind the world of their existence, and to highlight the disgracefully long amount of time that they have been held since being approved for release.

I’m alternating publication of the articles here and on the Close Guantánamo website, tying them in to noteworthy dates relating to how long they have been held since the US authorities first decided that they no longer wanted to hold them. The first article focused on the case of Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, a Yemeni who, on February 7, had been held for 1,000 days since being approved for release, and the second focused on Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah, another Yemeni, who, on February 11, had been held for 1,200 days since being approved for release. For the fourth article, about Abdulsalam Al-Hela and Sharqawi Al-Hajj, see here.

The reason these men have been held for so long without being freed is, sadly, because the decisions taken to release them — via Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type review process established by President Obama in 2013 — were purely administrative, meaning that the US government has no legal obligation to free them, and they cannot, for example, appeal to a judge to order their release if, as has become sadly apparent, the government has failed to prioritize their release.

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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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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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8,000 Days of Guantánamo: On Dec. 6, Call For the Prison’s Closure Via the Global Vigils and the Close Guantánamo Photo Campaign

A promotional image marking 8,000 days of Guantánamo’s existence on December 6, 2023.

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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.

I often say that it’s easier to get blood out of a stone than it is to get a single prisoner out of Guantánamo — by which I don’t mean the handful of men charged with crimes, but those who have never been charged with a crime, and who, moreover, have been unanimously approved for release by high-level US government review processes.

Of the 30 men still held at Guantánamo, 16 are in this category, and throughout this year campaigners have been highlighting their plight through coordinated vigils for the closure of Guantánamo that I initiated in February, with the support of friends and allies from groups and organizations including Amnesty International, Witness Against Torture, the World Can’t Wait and the UK Guantánamo Network, which I’m part of, and whose monthly vigils outside Parliament, which resumed in September 2022 after a hiatus of many years, gave me the inspiration to try to expand the vigils internationally.

The vigils take place on the first Wednesday of every month at locations across the US and around the world, including London, Washington, D.C., New York, Mexico City, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Cobleskill, NY, Raleigh, NC, Brussels and Copenhagen. See here for the report about, and photos from the most recent vigils on November 1.

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Photos and Report: The Coordinated Global Vigils for the Closure of Guantánamo on November 1, 2023

Photos from the coordinated global vigils for the closure of Guantánamo on November 1, 2023. Clockwise from top left: London, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and New York City.

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Campaigners with the UK Guantánamo Network outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms, London on November 1, 2023. Normally in Parliament Square, we move to the US Embassy every six months, but we had no idea that, yesterday, the US Vice President Kamala Harris would be visiting at the same time. As her cavalcade passed by after her visit to the Embassy, to visit Rishi Sunak, we all stood with ‘Close Guantanamo’ placards, which must have been noticed! (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Campaigners in Washington, D.C., on November 1, 2023, moved from their previous location, on Capitol Hill, to the White House, to attract more attention. Helen Schietinger of Witness Against Torture wrote, “We were five at the White House for our November Close Guantánamo Vigil in Washington D.C.: Steve Lane, Frank Panopoulos, Judith Kelly, David Barrows and myself. President Biden never showed up.”
Campaigners in New York City, on the steps of the Public Library on Fifth Avenue, on November 1, 2023, including, in the purple jacket, Debra Sweet, the National Director of the World Can’t Wait. The New York vigils always involve speeches, and on the mic is blogger The Talking Dog.

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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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