Libyan “Forever Prisoner” Ismael Ali Bakush Approved for Release from Guantánamo, Joining 21 Others Out Of the Remaining 36 Prisoners

Guantánamo prisoner Ismael Ali Bakush, in a photo included in his classified military file, released by Wikileaks in 2011.

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On September 23, a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo — a parole-type process introduced under President Obama — approved the release of Ismael Ali Bakush, a 54-year old Libyan who has been held at the prison without charge or trial since August 2002.

Bakush was one of 22 ”forever prisoners” that President Biden inherited from Donald Trump — men held indefinitely without charge or trial because Obama’s first review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, had concluded after reviewing their cases in 2009 that they either still constituted a threat to the US, whilst also conceding that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial (as was the case with Bakush), or, in other cases, because they had been recommended for prosecution by the task force, but that option had been dropped when the viability of Guantánamo’s unique trial system — the military commissions — had been rocked by a number of successful appeals.

64 men were initially put forward for the PRBs, when the process was established in 2013, and, between 2014 and 2016, 38 of them had their release recommended (and all but two were freed before Obama left office), but Bakush, whose first review took place in July 2016, was one of the 26 others who had failed to persuade the board members that it was safe to recommend him for release, even though the only alleged evidence that connected him with Al-Qaeda was his membership of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an organization of Libyan exiles committed, primarily, to the overthrow of the Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, but which, the US authorities claimed, “had merged with al-Qaida.”

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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).

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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.

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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Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards: The Escape Route Shut Down by Donald Trump

Four of the Guantanamo prisoners currently going through the Periodic Review Board process. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abd al-Salam al-Hilah.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.


Anyone paying close attention to the prison at Guantánamo Bay will know that its continued existence, nearly 17 years after it first opened, is largely down to the success of some wildly inaccurate claims that were made about it when its malevolent business first began — claims that it held “the worst of the worst” terrorists, who were all captured on the battlefield.

In fact, as my research, and that of other researchers has shown, very few of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 can realistically be described as having had any meaningful involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taliban; perhaps just 3 percent, and certainly less than 5 percent. No one was captured on the battlefield, and the majority were either foot soldiers for the Taliban in an inter-Muslim civil war that predated 9/11, or civilians swept up in ill-advised dragnets. Many, if not most of those who ended up at Guantánamo were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies for bounty payments, which averaged $5,000 a head, a huge amount of money in that part of the world.

Just 40 men are still held at Guantánamo, after George W. Bush released 532 men, and Barack Obama released 196. Nine men died, one was transferred to the US, to face a trial in which he was successfully prosecuted, and one more was reluctantly released by Donald Trump, or, rather, was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment, as part of a plea deal negotiated in his military commission trial proceedings in 2014. 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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