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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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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Guantánamo: My Definitive Six-Part Prisoner List Updated for 2022, With Links to My 2,500 Articles Since 2007

Campaigners holding up photos of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners opposite 10 Downing Street in London on January 8, 2022, three days before the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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In the sixteen years and eight months since I began working on Guantánamo on a full-time basis, I’ve built up an unprecedented archive of nearly 2,500 articles telling the stories of men held there, following their efforts to secure release from the prison, and, in the cases of all but the 36 men still held, writing about their release, and, in some cases, their lives afterwards.

In 2009, I first compiled a definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, listing all the men (and boys) held at the prison, providing references to where I told their stories in my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, and also providing links to all my articles mentioning them. I updated the list in 2010 (twice), 2011, 2014, 2016 and 2018, and have now updated it for the eighth time, adding links to the articles I’ve written over the last four years.

I hope this is of interest, and you can find the six articles here: Part 1 (ISN prisoner numbers 1-133), Part 2 (134-268), Part 3 (269-496), Part 4 (497-661), Part 5 (662-928) and Part 6 (929-10029).

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For First Time Since 2010, A Judge Grants a Guantánamo Prisoner’s Habeas Corpus Petition, Ruling that Asadullah Haroon Gul’s Imprisonment is Unlawful

Asadullah Haroon Gul’s parents, Ibrahim and Sehar Bibi, with photos of their son, taken in their home in the Shamshatu refugee camp in Pakistan in January 2021 (Photo: Aftab Khan).

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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 an important ruling in the District Court in Washington, D.C. last week, Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama nominee, granted the habeas corpus petition of Asadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan prisoner held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since June 2007, and identified by the US authorities simply as Haroon al-Afghani.

The ruling is significant because it is the first time since July 2010 that a judge has granted a Guantánamo prisoner’s habeas corpus petition on the basis that his detention is unlawful. After the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, there followed a two-year period that was the only time in Guantánamo’s history that the courts were able to objectively assess the basis of the prisoners’ detention, and in 38 cases judges ruled that the government had failed to establish that they had any meaningful connection to either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

By 2010, however, politically motivated appeals court judges had passed a number of rulings that gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners. The last man freed after having his habeas corpus petition granted was Mohammed Hassen (aka Mohammed Hassan Odaini), a Yemeni who was freed in July 2010 after having his habeas petition granted in May 2010. Two other prisoners had their habeas petitions granted in July 2010, but they were amongst the six men whose successful petitions were subsequently overturned by the court of appeals, and, from July 2010 until October 2011, eleven men had their habeas petitions denied, until they, and their lawyers, gave up. Several efforts were made in the following years to interest the Supreme Court in taking back control of Guantánamo detainee issues, and to break through the obstacles raised by the court of appeals, but all, sadly, were in vain.

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Fighting Guantánamo in the Courts Under President Biden

Three of the Guantánamo prisoners who are currently seeking their release from the prison through the US courts. From L to R: Khalid Qassim and Abdulsalam al-Hela, both Yemenis, and Asadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan.

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I wrote the following article (as “The Ongoing Legal Struggles to Secure Justice for the Guantánamo Prisoners Under President Biden”) 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 nineteen unforgivably long years since the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay was first established, lawyers have worked tirelessly to challenge and overturn the Bush administration’s outrageous contention that everyone who ended up at Guantánamo was an “enemy combatant” with no rights whatsoever, who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

There have been victories along the way, but the sad truth is that Guantánamo’s fundamental lawlessness remains intact to this day. Since 2010, only one prisoner has been freed because of the actions of lawyers and the US courts (a Sudanese man whose mental health issues persuaded the Justice Department, in this one instance only, not to challenge his habeas corpus petition), and, as the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency showed, if the president doesn’t want anyone released from Guantánamo, no legal avenue exists to compel him to do otherwise.

The lawyers’ great legal victories for the Guantánamo prisoners came in the Supreme Court in what now seems to be the distant, long-lost past. In June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right to have the evidence against them objectively assessed by a judge. That ruling allowed lawyers into the prison to begin to represent the men held, breaking the veil of secrecy that had allowed abusive conditions to thrive, but Congress then intervened to block the habeas legislation, and it was not until June 2008 that the Supreme Court, revisiting Guantánamo, ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that Congress had acted unconstitutionally, and affirmed that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas rights.

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Afghan Government Calls for Release of Guantánamo “Forever Prisoner” Asadullah Haroon Gul

Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans at Guantánamo, as featured in a photo taken at the prison by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.

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As we await further information from the Biden administration about its planned review of Guantánamo, it’s reassuring to see that the Afghan government has submitted an amicus brief in a US court as part of efforts to secure the release and repatriation of Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans in Guantánamo, after 14 years of imprisonment at Guantánamo without charge or trial, in which, for the first nine years, he didn’t even have representation by a lawyer.

I have followed Gul’s story since he arrived at Guantánamo from Afghanistan in June 2007, as one of the last prisoners to be sent to the prison. He had allegedly been involved with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIA, also identified as HIG), a group led by the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had briefly been aligned with al-Qaeda after the US-led invasion in October 2001, but the US authorities had never regarded him as significant, because he is the only Guantánamo prisoner not to have been assigned a Guantánamo Internment Serial Number (ISN). Instead, his prisoner serial number (3148) is from Bagram. This is significant because a Guantánamo number is required to be eligible for an administrative review at Guantánamo (a Combatant Status Review Tribunal), which is required if a prisoner is to be charged.

Even more significant is the fact that, even if Gul was involved with HIA, Hekmatyar no longer has any connection to al-Qaeda, and HIA “ceased all hostilities with the United States” in 2016, following a peace agreement in 2016 between HIA and the Afghan government, as the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains in the brief, adding that “[d]etainees who are not a member of Al Qaida or the Taliban must be released if their organization is no longer engaged in hostilities with the United States.” In August, Hekmatyar’s return to Afghan political life was confirmed when he was appointed to the Afghan government’s High Council for National Reconciliation.

As the Ministry also points out, “Members of the United States Government have recognized this end to hostilities by negotiating with members of HIA. Thus, Haroon, a member of HIA, should be released.”

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Closing Guantánamo, the Democrats and the NDAA

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay walk past Congress on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison.

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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 long and dispiriting story of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, where, in defiance of its purported values, the US is holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, the role of Congress is not always well understood.

Under George W. Bush, lawmakers were largely compliant with the shameful innovations introduced after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, passing the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the week after the attacks, which allowed the president to pursue anyone that he felt was associated with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces, and to imprison them at the Guantánamo prison, which was deliberately established on the US naval base in Cuba to be beyond the reach of the US courts.

From the beginning, the men — and boys — held there were held without rights, and although long legal struggles led to them eventually securing habeas corpus rights, Congress fought back. However, when their habeas rights were eventually gutted of all meaning, the responsibility lay with ideologically malignant appeals court judges rather than Congress.

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Lawyers’ Fears for Guantánamo “Forever Prisoner” Sharqawi Al-Hajj “After Rapidly Declining Health and Suicidal Statements”

Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), representing her client Sharqawi al-Hajj outside the White House on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay (Photo: Shelby Sullivan-Bennis).

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Disturbing news from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who report that one of their Guantánamo clients, Sharqawi al-Hajj, “stated on a recent call with his attorney that he wanted to take his own life.” CCR described this, in a press release, as “a first” in CCR’s long representation of al-Hajj, adding that their attorneys have responded to it “with the utmost seriousness.”

As they further explain, “His suicidal statements follow a steady and observable deterioration of his physical and mental health that his legal team has been raising the alarm about for two years. They are monitoring his condition as best they can, and will provide any further information as soon as they are able.”

In an eloquent statement, CCR’s lawyers said, “When things are in a state of perpetual crisis, as they seem all around today, it is easy to lose sight of just how extreme a situation is, and grow numb to it. We have lost sight of just how extreme the situation in the Guantánamo prison is. We have grown numb to it.”

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A Rare Court Victory Offers Hope for Guantánamo’s “Forever Prisoners”

Guantánamo prisoner Khalid Qassim, in a photograph included in his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and ‘Titanic in Black and White,’ an artwork he made at Guantánamo in 2017, consisting of paint over gravel mixed with glue, which was included in the show ‘Art from Guantánamo Bay’ at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York in 2017-18.

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 of the Trump administration. 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.

Anyone who has been following the alleged legal basis for the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of prisoners at Guantánamo should be encouraged by a ruling on June 21, 2019 by a three-judge panel — consisting of Judges Patricia A. Millett, Cornelia T. L. Pillard, and Harry T. Edwards — in the D.C. Circuit Court (the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia) in Qassim v. Trump, a case involving Khalid Qassim, a 41-year old Yemeni citizen who has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial for over 17 years.

Close Guantánamo’s co-founder Tom Wilner argued the case before the court, and, as he explains, the court “reversed an eight-year rule that has prevented Guantánamo detainees from seeing and rebutting the evidence purportedly justifying their detentions,” as part of a ruling in which the judges granted Qassim’s request to reverse the District Court’s denial of his petition for habeas corpus.

To give some necessary perspective to the significance of the ruling, it is important to understand that, for most of Guantánamo’s history, the law has failed to offer them adequate protections against executive overreach. In a glaring demonstration of arrogant folly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration decided that anyone who ended up in US custody would be treated neither as a criminal (to be charged and put on trial), nor as a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, who could be held unmolested until the end of hostilities. Instead, the prisoners were designated as “unlawful enemy combatants”; essentially, human beings without any rights whatsoever.

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How the US Fell for Chinese Lies Regarding the Uighurs at Guantánamo, and Why the Uighurs Need Our Support

A cross-post, with my own detailed introduction, of an article by Richard Bernstein for the Atlantic about how the Bush administration overrode its own considered assessments to support the Chinese government's false description of the Uighurs, an oppressed minority from north west China, as terrorists, in relation to 22 Uighurs who had ended up at
An undated photo of supporters of China’s oppressed Uighur people protesting outside the White House about the imprisonment of Uighurs at Guantánamo. The last of the prison’s Uighurs were freed in 2013, but nowadays the Uighurs are suffering from particularly harsh repression from the Chinese government, with at least a million Uighurs arbitrarily imprisoned in internment camps (Photo: futureatlas.com/flickr).

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Thanks to the Atlantic, and Richard Bernstein, former foreign correspondent for Time and the New York Times, for revisiting the story of Guantánamo’s Uighurs, the ethnic group in the prison who were most transparently unconnected to the anti-American activities of Al-Qaeda.

The timing of Bernstein’s article, ‘When China Convinced the U.S. That Uighurs Were Waging Jihad,’ is evidently intended — and with good reason — to highlight the terrible situation faced by the UIghurs, a Turkic group from Xinjiang province in north western China, who are currently facing the harshest clampdown by the Chinese government in a long history of oppression, with at least a million Uighurs “arbitrarily detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, where they are forced to undergo political indoctrination,” as the Guardian explained in November 2018, after the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (the first to study China since 2013) had condemned China for its deteriorating human rights record. As Vox explained, Western governments “had the harshest words for China,” with the US chargé d’affaires Mark Cassayre demanding that China “abolish all forms of arbitrary detention” for Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, and calling on the government to  “release the ‘possibly millions’ of individuals detained there.”

Bernstein’s article focuses on how the Bush administration — shamefully — reversed its opinion about the Chinese government’s oppression of the Uighurs in 2002, to justify its imprisonment of 22 Uighur prisoners at Guantánamo, some of whom spent a total of 12 years in US custody, despite it having been obvious to anyone actually paying attention to their cases that, as many of the Uighurs themselves explained, they had only one enemy — the Chinese government — and had no animosity whatsoever towards the US.

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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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