Seven Authors, All Former Guantánamo Prisoners, Urge President Biden to Close the Prison Before its 20th Anniversary

The books of the seven authors and former Guantánamo prisoners who have just written an open letter to President Biden, urging him to close the prison, which was published in the New York Review of Books.

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As the Biden administration settles in, and we await news of its plans for Guantánamo — after defense secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate during his confirmation hearing, “I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantánamo to close its doors” — it’s good to see the need for Guantánamo to be closed being discussed in the New York Review of Books by seven former prisoners who have all written books about their experiences.

The seven authors are Mansoor Adayfi, whose memoir Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo is being published this August, Moazzam Begg (Enemy Combatant, 2006), Lakhdar Boumediene (Witnesses of the Unseen: Seven Years in Guantanamo, 2017), Sami Al Hajj (Prisoner 345: My Six Years in Guantánamo, 2018), Ahmed Errachidi (The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo, 2013), Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Guantánamo Diary, 2015) and Moussa Zemmouri (Onschuldig in Guantánamo, 2010).

I’ve read all of the above — with the exceptions of Moussa Zemmouri’s book, which hasn’t been translated into English, and Mansoor Adayfi’s, which hasn’t been published yet  — and what I know from all of them is how eloquent the authors are, and how keenly they experienced and articulated the injustices of Guantánamo.

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Torture Victims Lead Call for Torture Apologists Avril Haines and Mike Morell Not to be Confirmed as Director of National Intelligence and CIA Director

Avril Haines and Mike Morell, who both have a troubling history as torture apologists. In an open letter, opponents of torture, myself included, urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA Director, and urge the Senate not to confirm Biden’s appointment of Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence.

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I’m delighted to be a signatory to an open letter, initiated by Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK and Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America and CODEPINKCONGRESS, urging President-elect Joe Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA Director, and asking the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence (the head of the 16 branches of the US Intelligence Community) — and I’m particularly gratified that I was able to reach out to a number of former Guantánamo prisoners to encourage them to sign the letter.

Both Morell and Haynes have a troubling history of defending torture. Morell, who was a CIA analyst under George W. Bush, and Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Barack Obama, defended the use of torture when speaking to VICE in 2015. “I don’t like calling it torture for one simple reason: to call it torture says my guys were torturers,” he said, adding, “I’m gonna defend my guys till my last breath.” As Medea Benjamin and Marcy Winograd explained in an article for Common Dreams yesterday, Morell “put his CIA buddies above truth, the law and basic decency.”

Hopefully, as they also noted, “Morell’s traction may be on the wane with the Biden administration … after progressives launched a campaign against [him], and Senator Ron Wyden — a powerful Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee — called him a ‘torture apologist’ and said his appointment to head the CIA was a ‘non starter.’”

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The Horrors of Guantánamo Eloquently Explained By A High School Teacher to Readers of Teen Vogue

Former Guantanamo prisoners Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir, photographed with their sons in 2011 and 2012.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.

Last week, a powerful and eloquent condemnation of the prison at Guantánamo Bay was published in Teen Vogue. As a lawyer friend explained, “For the past couple of years, Teen Vogue has been doing a fantastic job reporting on political and social issues — their election and Muslim ban coverage was and is excellent.”

The article, which we’re cross-posting below in the hope of reaching a slightly different audience, was written by Dan Norland, a high school history teacher who knows how to talk to young people, and who, like Teen Vogue’s editors, understands that young people are often much more capable of critical, open-minded thought than their elders — something I perceived in relation to Guantánamo many years ago, as discussed in my 2011 article, The 11-Year Old American Girl Who Knows More About Guantánamo Than Most US Lawmakers.

Dan is not only a high school teacher; he also helped two former Guantánamo prisoners — two Algerians kidnapped in Bosnia in 2002 in connection with a completely non-existent terrorist plot — write a searing account of their imprisonment and torture, Witnesses of the Unseen: Seven Years in Guantánamo, which was published last year, and for which I was delighted to have been asked by the publishers to write a review, which I did. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene Condemns “Cruel, Sadistic” New Policy of Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve

Former Guantanamo prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene.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.


It’s nearly a month since Guantánamo thrust its way back into the public consciousness with news from the human rights organization Reprieve that, under a new chief medical officer at Guantánamo, the rules for treating long-term hunger strikers had changed. Where, previously, those going without food were force-fed when they lost a fifth of their body weight, two hunger strikers — Ahmed Rabbani and Khalid Qassim, clients of Reprieve — indicated that, since the new appointment, on September 20, they were no longer being force-fed, and were not even being monitored.

Following further phone discussions with their clients, Reprieve suggested that what was happening was that prisoners were being left to suffer whatever damage might ensue from prolonged starving, but the medical authorities were still intending to force-feed them if it looked like they might die.

Force-feeding is a horrible process, of course, akin to torture, but although medical experts insist that mentally competent prisoners must be allowed to starve themselves to death, if they wish, that does not strike me as relevant at Guantánamo, where the men on hunger strike have never been tried or convicted of any crime, and allowing them to die would actually endorse the very reason they are hunger striking in the first place — because they are being held without charge or trial, with no end in sight to their preposterously long ordeal, and they have no other way of protesting about the injustice of their predicament. Read the rest of this entry »

“Choose Peace”: An Inspiring Message of Tolerance From Former Guantánamo Prisoner and Torture Victim Mustafa Ait Idir

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mustafa Ait Idir, photographed after his release from Guantanamo in December 2008 (Photo: Amer Kapetanovic).Please support my work! 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 year, I was honored to be asked to write a short review to promote a Guantánamo memoir by two former prisoners, Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir, two of six Algerians living and working in Bosnia-Herzegovina, who had been kidnapped by the US authorities in January 2002 and flown to Guantánamo, where they were severely abused. The US authorities mistakenly thought they were involved in a plot to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo, despite no evidence to indicate that this was the case. Before their kidnapping, the Bosnian authorities had investigated their case, as demanded by the US, but had found no evidence of wrongdoing. However, on the day of their release from Bosnian custody, US forces swooped, kidnapping them and beginning an outrageous ordeal that lasted for six years.

Five of the six — including Boumediene and Ait Idir — were eventually ordered released by a federal court judge, who responded to a habeas corpus petition they submitted in 2008, after the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, by telling the US government, in no uncertain terms, that they had failed to establish that they had any connection to Al-Qaeda or had any involvement in terrorism.

Ait Idir, who had worked for Qatar Charities in Bosnia before his capture, where he had been widely recognized as a talented athlete and coach, was returned to his wife and family in Sarajevo, where he is now a computer science teacher at a secondary school, while Boumediene, an aid worker for the Red Crescent Society in Bosnia before his kidnapping, who gave his name to the Supreme Court case establishing the prisoners’ habeas rights, was resettled in France in May 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Fawzi Al-Odah Freed from Guantánamo, Returns Home to Kuwait

In this photo released by the al-Odah family, Fawzi al-Odah is shown with an unidentified relative on the left and his father Khalid on the right on his arrival in Kuwait on November 6, 2014.Congratulations to the Obama administration for arranging for Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, to be sent home, a free man, on the day after the US mid-term elections — although he will be held in Kuwaiti custody for a year and required to take part in a year-long rehabilitation program.

With control of the Senate passing from the Democrats to the Republicans, and the House of Representatives maintaining its Republican majority, it may be difficult for President Obama to engage constructively with lawmakers on the eventual closure of the prison during his last two years in office.

However, by releasing al-Odah, leaving 148 men still held at the prison, including the last Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, the president has sent a clear signal that his administration remains committed to releasing prisoners approved for release by governmental review boards, following the rules laid down by Congress, which require the administration to give them 30 days’ notice prior to any release, and for the defense secretary to certify that he is satisfied that it is safe for the prisoner or prisoners in question to be released.

Al-Odah, who was born on May 6, 1977 and is 37 years old, was seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to US custody on January 2, 2002. He arrived at Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, and, as a result, spent over a third of his life at the prison, without ever having been charged or tried. Read the rest of this entry »

A Powerful Interview with Former Guantánamo Prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene

Last Saturday, the New York Times published an article based on an interview with former Guantánamo prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian whose case, Boumediene v. Bush, was regarded at the time as one of the most significant legal victories in the whole of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” reversing Congressional attempts to strip the prisoners of the habeas rights that the Supreme Court had first granted them in June 2004.

Lakhdar Boumediene went on to become one of 28 prisoners freed as a result of winning their habeas corpus petitions in the District Court in Washington D.C., although that impressive run of victories for the prisoners from October 2008 to July 2010 was abruptly stopped in the summer of 2010 by right-wing judges in the D.C. Circuit Court — the court of appeals — who have insisted, for nakedly political reasons, in rewriting the rules of detention to ensure that no prisoner can now secure a victory in court and be released through legal means.

As well as being a well-known name in legal circles, Lakhdar Boumediene was also noteworthy in Guantánamo, as one of six unfortunate Algerian men seized nowhere near the battlefields of Afghanistan, but kidnapped by US agents in Bosnia-Herzegovina and flown to Guantánamo in January 2002. The kidnapping took place after a disgraceful episode of US paranoia, in which he and the other men — who had all settled in Bosnia-Herzegovina after traveling there during the Bosnian War of 1992-95 — were imprisoned for three months by the Bosnian authorities at the request of the Bush administration. They were then kidnapped on Bosnian soil after their release had been ordered by a Bosnian court, because there was no evidence whatsoever that they were involved in terrorism, or had, as the US initially alleged, been involved in plotting to blow up the US embassy in Sarajevo. 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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