Guantánamo and the U.S. Courts: When Is A War Not Over? Apparently, When It’s the “War on Terror”

Guantánamo prisoner Khalid Qassim, and Senior Judge Thomas Hogan, of the District Court in Washington, D.C., who is responsible for delivering a ruling in a case brought by Qassim, whose lawyers are seeking to have Judge Hogan order his release, on the basis that he was nothing more than a foot soldier in Afghanistan at the time of his capture over 21 years ago, and that, as such, the U.S. government can no longer claim any right to hold him, after the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in August 2021.

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It’s a sign of the fundamental lawlessness of Guantánamo that, 19 months since the United States decisively brought to an end its nearly 20-year military presence in Afghanistan by withdrawing all its troops, a Guantánamo prisoner — who is not alleged to have been anything more than a foot soldier for the Taliban at the time of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan — is fighting in a U.S. court to try to get a judge to recognize that, given the definitive end to the U.S.’s involvement in hostilities in Afghanistan, he must be freed.

The prisoner in question is Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni who has been held for nearly 21 years without charge or trial at Guantánamo, and is still held, even though, last July, a Periodic Review Board (a parole-type review process introduced by President Obama) approved him for release, recognizing his “low level of training and lack of a leadership role in al Qaida or the Taliban.”

This was an important decision, which finally brought to an end the U.S. government’s insistence that it could continue to hold him not because of anything he was alleged to have done prior to his capture, but because of concerns regarding his lack of compliance during his imprisonment at Guantánamo.

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The Powerful Artwork Still Being Created by Prisoners at Guantánamo, and the Outrageous Ban on its Dissemination That is Still in Place

A painting from 2016 by Guantánamo prisoner Khalid Qasim, created before the ban on any artwork being released from the prison was introduced under Donald Trump in 2017, a ban which, shamefully, still stands.

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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.

Many thanks to BBC World reporter Joel Gunter for his recent detailed article, “The sudden silencing of Guantánamo’s artists,” about the wonderful artwork produced by some of the men held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, a lifeline for them since they were first allowed to express themselves during the Obama presidency, but one that has become considerably compromised in recent years, after the Pentagon took exception to an exhibition of some of the prisoners’ artwork at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City from October 2017 to January 2018.

Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay” featured art by eight current and former prisoners, mostly innocuous scenes drawn from nature, all of which had been approved for release by the Pentagon after screening to assure officials that they didn’t contain hidden terrorist messages. Some of the artists showed noticeable talent, although the most striking works were ships and boats made by a Yemeni prisoner, Moath al-Alwi, using recycled materials.

I wrote at the time about the importance of prisoners being allowed to express themselves artistically after their long years of what was, fundamentally, profound isolation under President Bush, and of the importance of their art being allowed to be seen in the US, to show the men as human beings rather than the “super-terrorist” bogeymen that is the default position towards them that has been taken by the US government and the mainstream media, even though the overwhelming majority of the 779 men held at Guantánamo since it first opened in January 2002 have never been charged with a crime, and were almost certainly nothing more than foot soldiers or even civilians seized by mistake.

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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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“A Good Man With A Lot to Offer This World”: Khaled Qassim’s Attorney Urges Periodic Review Board to Approve His Release from Guantánamo

Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), in a photo taken at Guantánamo around 15 years ago, and included in his classified military file released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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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.

Two weeks ago, in an article entitled, The U.S.’s Ongoing “Forever Prisoner” Problem at Guantánamo, I discussed the last five men held at Guantánamo as “forever prisoners,” the only men out of the 37 still held who have not been either charged with a crime (eleven of the 37), or approved for release (the remaining 21).

Most of those approved for release had those recommendations made by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established under President Obama, with 16 of those decisions taking place since President Biden took office. The men in question demonstrated to the board members — comprising representatives of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State, and the offices of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence — that they were contrite, and had plans for a peaceful life if released, with the board members also concluding that they did not pose a significant security threat.

For a variety of reasons, however, the five “forever prisoners” have been unable to persuade the boards to approve their release, generally through a failure to engage with the review process, and/or because of ongoing concerns about the threat they purportedly still pose.

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“Forever Prisoner” at Guantánamo: The Shameful Ongoing Imprisonment of Khaled Qassim

Guantánamo prisoner Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Please be aware that this photo doesn’t reflect what Khaled looks like now, as it was taken 14 or 15 years ago, when he was around 30 years old. According to his birthdate in the Pentagon’s records, he has just marked his 45th birthday, and in May will have been held at Guantánamo for 20 years without charge or trial.

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On the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay — a disgraceful anniversary that should never have come to pass — President Biden sought to divert attention from his general inaction on Guantánamo in his first year in office by announcing that five men had been approved for release from the prison by Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type process established under President Obama. 

What was less widely reported was that another prisoner, Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), held for nearly 20 years, had his ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved by a Periodic Review Board, not because of any crime he has committed — the board members recognised his “low level of training and lack of leadership in al Qaida or the Taliban” — but because of his “inability to manage his emotions and actions”, his “high level of significant non-compliance in the last year”, and his “lack of plans for the future if released.”

The decision reveals a fundamental weakness in the PRB system, a purely administrative process, which is not legally binding, and has, essentially, replaced reviews of prisoners’ cases in the courts via habeas corpus petitions — a process that led to dozens of prisoners having their release ordered by the courts between 2008 and 2010, when cynical, politically motivated appeals court judges passed rulings that shut the process down.

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“My Best Friend and Brother”: A Profile of Guantánamo Prisoner Khalid Qasim by Mansoor Adayfi

Khalid Qasim (left), who is still held at Guantánamo, and his friend Mansoor Adayfi, released in 2016, and resettled in Serbia, who has written a powerful and moving profile of him, published below.

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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.

Today we’re delighted to be publishing a brand-new article by former Guantánamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, about his friend Khalid Qasim, who is one of the 40 men still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay in its latest iteration under Donald Trump — a place without hope, cruelly and pointlessly still in existence 18 years after it first opened.

To try and shine a light on the continuing injustice of Guantánamo — and the plight of the men still held — we were delighted, two weeks ago, to publicize an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork taking place at CUNY School of Law in New York, in an article entitled, Humanizing the Silenced and Maligned: Guantánamo Prisoner Art at CUNY Law School in New York. The exhibition was formally launched on February 19, and I wrote about its launch here, but my initial article focused on the work of just one prisoner, whose work had ben shown before the official launch, during my annual visit to the US in January, to call for the closure of the prison on the anniversary of its opening.

The prisoner is Khalid Qasim (also identified as Khalid Qassim or Khaled Qassim), and as I was writing my article I noticed that Mansoor Adayfi had posted a message on Facebook stating, “My best friend and brother Khalid Qassim, 18 years behind bars at Guantánamo, without any charges or trial. What is enough for Trump?”

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Photos and Report: The Launch of “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison” at CUNY School of Law in New York

One of the extraordinary ships made out of recycled materials at Guantánamo by Moath al-Alwi, who is still held, as shown in the exhibition, “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison,” at CUNY School of Law in New York (Photo: Elena Olivo).

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Last week was the launch of “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison,” a powerful new art exhibition featuring work by eleven current and former Guantánamo prisoners at CUNY School of Law’s Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice, in Long Island City in Queens, New York, which I wrote about in an article entitled, Humanizing the Silenced and Maligned: Guantánamo Prisoner Art at CUNY Law School in New York

This is only the second time that Guantánamo prisoners’ artwork has been displayed publicly, following a 2017 exhibition at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, also in New York, which became something of a cause célèbre after the Pentagon complained about it. That institutional hissy fit secured considerable sympathy for the prisoners — and criticism for the DoD — but in the end the prisoners lost out, as the authorities at Guantánamo clamped down on their ability to produce artwork, and prohibited any artwork that was made — and which the prisoners had been giving to their lawyers, and, via their lawyers, to their families — from leaving the prison under any circumstances. 

Since the launch, a wealth of new information has come my way, via Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represents around ten of the 40 men still held at Guantánamo, and who was one of the main organizers of the exhibition, which is running until mid-March, with further manifestations continuing, I hope, throughout the rest of the year.

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Humanizing the Silenced and Maligned: Guantánamo Prisoner Art at CUNY Law School in New York

Artwork by Guantánamo prisoner Khalid Qasim, still held without charge or trial, showing in “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison,” an exhibition at CUNY School of Law in New York.

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.

For the men held in the US government’s disgraceful prison at Guantánamo Bay, where men have now been held for up to 18 years, mostly without charge or trial, the US authorities’ persistent efforts to dehumanize them — and to hide them from any kind of scrutiny that might challenge their captors’ assertions that they are “the worst of the worst” and should have no rights whatsoever as human beings — have involved persistent efforts to silence them, to prevent them from speaking about their treatment, and to prevent them from sharing with the world anything that might reveal them as human beings, with the ability to love, and the need to be loved, and with hopes and fears just like US citizens.

Cutting through this fog of secrecy and censorship, “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison” is an exhibition of prisoners’ art that is currently showing in the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice at CUNY (City University of New York) School of Law, based in Long Island City in Queens. The exhibition opened on February 19, and is running through to the middle of March. Entry is free, and anyone is welcome to attend.

As the organizers explain on the CUNY website, “The exhibit showcases artworks — the majority of which have never before been displayed — of eleven current and former Guantánamo prisoners, and includes a range of artistic styles and mediums. From acrylic landscapes on canvas to model ships made from scavenged materials such as plastic bottle caps and threads from prayer rugs, ‘Guantánamo [Un]Censored’ celebrates the creativity of the artists and their resilience.”

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No Escape from Guantánamo: An Update on the Periodic Review Boards

Four Guantanamo prisoners whose cases are still nominally being reviewed by Periodic Review Boards. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, awaiting a decision in his review after 16 months, and Khalid Qasim, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Uthman Mohammed Uthman, who all had their ongoing imprisonment upheld after reviews this year.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.




 

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.

Regular Guantánamo-watchers will know how wretched it is that Donald Trump is in charge of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, because he appears to have no ability or willingness to understand that it is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, where most of the 40 men still held are imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial, in defiance of all agreed laws and treaties, and a handful of others are facing trials in a broken trial system, the military commissions, that is not fit for purpose.

Under George W. Bush, a total of 532 prisoners were released from Guantánamo, and Barack Obama released another 196. Trump, to date, has released just one man, a Saudi repatriated for ongoing imprisonment, who was only released because of a plea deal he had agreed to in his military commission proceedings in 2014, and has shown no interest in releasing anyone else, even though five of the 40 men still held were approved for release by high-level review processes under President Obama. With only nine men facing trials, that also leaves 26 other men in that unjustifiable limbo of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial.

The only mechanism that exists that theoretically could lead to the release of any of these men is the Periodic Review Board system, the second review process set up by President Obama. The first, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, assessed in 2009 whether prisoners should be freed or tried or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial. 156 were recommended for release, and 36 for prosecution, and 48 for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were regarded as too dangerous to release, but insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Khalid Qassim Says, “We Are Like Lab Rats,” Says Doctor Told Him, “If You Lose Organs, It Is Your Choice”

Guantanamo prisoner Khalid Qassim, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.





 

Last Thursday, as I travelled across London to show solidarity with the victims of a recent injustice in the UK — the Grenfell Tower fire in June, in which 71 people died needlessly because safety standards had been so gravely eroded by those responsible for residents’ safety — the victim of another injustice, not adequately dealt with for 16 years, had an article published in the Guardian.

That victim of injustice is Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, held for almost 16 years without charge or trial. That would be unacceptable if he were a prisoner of war, as it is longer than the absurdly long Vietnam War, and it is insulting to claim that any war can last forever. However, Qassim and all the men held at Guantánamo since January 2002 have never been held as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, who can be held unmolested until the end of hostilities.

Instead, they are, essentially, the same prisoners without any rights whatsoever that the Bush administration first defined them as back in January 2002. Just ten of the 41 men still held are facing or have faced trials (in the military commission trial system that, in any case, is not fit for purpose), while the rest are still largely invisible, never tried, never charged, and unable to be freed except at the whim of the president. 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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