A Coronavirus Lament by Guantánamo Prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul

Guantánamo prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul, known to the US authorities as Haroon al-Afghani, who has been held at the prison without charge or trial since 2007.

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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.

Last week, on my own website, I published an article looking at the threat posed to the prisoners at Guantánamo by the coronavirus, following up on the alarming news that a US sailor had been diagnosed with the virus, and was in isolation. My article also included a cross-post of a related article written for Just Security by Scott Roehm, the Washington Director of the Center for Victims of Torture.

Roehm pointed out that a number of the prisoners have serious underlying health problems, including Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, Saifullah Paracha, and Sharqawi Al-Hajj, who tried to commit suicide last year, both of whom we have written about (see here and here).

Roehm also called for a number of appropriate responses from the Trump administration, beginning with letting the prisoners and their lawyers know what policies are in place to deal with the virus, and also including a call for Congress to allow prisoners to be transferred to the US mainland if they need urgent medical care.

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Good News! Former Guantánamo Prisoners Released from UAE to Afghanistan

Two of the three Afghan nationals and former Guantánamo prisoners who were recently repatriated to Afghanistan, having initially been released from Guantánamo to the UAE in 2016-17. On the top row: Hamidullah (aka Mawlawi Hamdullah Tarakhail) photographed at Guantánamo over a decade ago, and subsequently photographed after his return to Afghanistan. On the bottom row: Obaidullah, photographed before his capture at the age of 18, and subsequently photographed after his return to Afghanistan.

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At the start of the year, I stumbled across a couple of news sources reporting that three former Guantánamo prisoners — all Afghan nationals — had been repatriated to Afghanistan from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they had been sent by Barack Obama between November 2015 and January 2017, just before Donald Trump took office.

The reason for the men’s release wasn’t given in these reports, and while I picked up a few hints about what had happened on my US trip to call for the closure of Guantánamo (from January 10-20), it wasn’t until last week that I was alerted to a more thorough explanation of their repatriation, via the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), “an independent non-profit policy research organisation,” established n 2009, and, specifically, via ‘Freed at Last: Three Afghans sent to Guantánamo in 2002 and 2003 are finally home,’ an article by Kate Clark, who has been involved wth Afghanistan since 1999 when she was the BBC’s Kabul correspondent, and who, in 2016, authored a detailed report, “Kafka in Cuba: The Afghan Experience in Guantánamo.”

In total, 23 men were sent from Guantánamo to the UAE — five Yemenis in November 2015, 12 Yemenis and three Afghans in August 2016 (see here and here), and one Russian, one Afghan and one Yemeni in January 2017 — but as Kate Clark explains, although the men “sent to the UAE believed — as did their families and lawyers — that they were also heading for temporary detention and then resettlement and family reunion,” what transpired instead was that, “for almost all of the last three years, the UAE authorities … held them in al-Rizan maximum security prison”, where they “were allowed family visits, but were not permitted to see their lawyers or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).”

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WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo (Part Four of Five)

Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.

This is Part 4 of the 70-part series.

One of the great publicity coups in WikiLeaks’ recent release of classified military documents relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo, as I explained in the first part of this five-part series, was to shine a light on the stories of the first 201 prisoners to be freed from the prison between its opening, in January 2002, and September 2004, when 35 prisoners were repatriated to Pakistan, and 11 were repatriated to Afghanistan.

A handful of these 46 prisoners were cleared for release as a result of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, a one-sided process, which ran from August 2004 to March 2005 and was designed to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “enemy combatants,” who could continue to be held indefinitely. Information about the 558 prisoners who passed through the CSRT process (PDF) was first made publicly available in 2006, but no records have ever been publicly released by the US government which provide any information whatsoever about the 201 released, or approved for release before the CSRTs began, except for a prisoner list released in May 2006 (PDF), which contains the names, nationalities, and, where known, dates of birth and places of birth for 759 prisoners (all but the 20 who arrived at Guantánamo between September 2006 and March 2008).

In the years since the documents relating to the CSRTs were released (and information relating to their annual follow-ups, the Administrative Review Boards, or ARBs), I attempted to track down the stories of these 201 men, and managed, largely through successful research that led to relevant media reports, interviews and reports compiled by NGOs, to discover information about 114 of these prisoners, but nothing at all was known about 87 others (except for their names, and, in some cases, their date of birth and place of birth). With the release of the WikiLeaks files, all but three of these 87 stories have emerged for the very first time, and in this series of articles, I am transcribing and condensing these stories, and providing them with some necessary context. The first 51 stories were in Part One, Part Two, and Part Three, and the penultimate instalment is below. Also see Part Five. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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