Who Are the Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Oman, Leaving 45 Men Still Held, Including Nine Approved for Release?

The ten prisoners released from Guantanamo on Jan. 16, 2017. Top, from L to R: Abdul Zahir (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Mohammed al-Ansi, Mohammed Ahmed Said Haidel (aka Muhammed Ahmad Said Haydar), Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammed Rabei’i and Musa’ab al-Madhwani (aka Musab Omar Ali al Madhwani). Bottom, from L to R: Bostan Karim (aka Karim Bostan) (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Ghaleb al-Bihani, Mustafa al-Shamiri, Walid Said Bin Said Zaid and Hail al-Maythali (aka Hayil al-Maythali). All the photos are from the files leaked by Chelsea Manning and released by WikiLeaks in 2011 except the photo of al-Bihani, which was taken by the International Red Cross, and made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo during the first two months of the incoming Trump administration.

 

So there was great news from Guantánamo on Monday, when ten men — eight Yemenis and two Afghans — were released and sent to Oman, which has previously taken in 20 Yemenis. The Yemenis have been the most difficult category of prisoners to be freed from Guantánamo, because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate them, fearing the security situation in their home country, meaning that third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them a new home — and are prepared to overlook the fact that the US itself is unwilling to do that, and, in fact, that Congress has, for many years, passed laws specifically preventing any Guantánamo prisoner from being brought to the US mainland for any reason.

The ten releases leave 45 men still held at Guantánamo, with three or four more releases expected before President Obama leaves office on Friday, according to the latest reports. At present, however, nine men approved for release are still held, and the release of those left behind when Obama leaves the White House must be a priority for campaigners as soon as Donald Trump takes office.

Of the ten men released, two were approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office, while the other eight were approved for release between May 2014 and December 2016 by Periodic Review Boards, another high-level, inter-agency review process, and one that campaigners must also press Donald Trump to keep. Read the rest of this entry »

Great New York Times Exposé of How Torture, Abuse and Command Indifference Compromised Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

A prisoner, in the early days of Guantanamo, being moved on a gurney, as prisoners were in the prison's early years.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

A recent detailed New York Times article, “Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo,” provides a powerful review of the horrors of Guantánamo from the perspective of “more than two dozen military medical personnel who served or consulted” at the prison.

The Times article, written by Sheri Fink, explains how some prisoners were disturbed when they arrived at the prison, others “struggled with despair” as their imprisonment without charge or trial dragged on, and some “had developed symptoms including hallucinations, nightmares, anxiety or depression after undergoing brutal interrogations” by US personnel — sometime in CIA “black sites,” sometimes at Guantánamo — who had themselves been advised by other health personnel. Those who were tortured — although the Times refused to mention the word “torture,” as has been the paper’s wont over the years, coyly referring to dozens of men who “underwent agonizing treatment” — “were left with psychological problems that persisted for years, despite government lawyers’ assurances that the practices did not constitute torture and would cause no lasting harm.”

The result, Fink concluded, was that “a willful blindness to the consequences emerged. Those equipped to diagnose, document and treat the effects — psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health teams — were often unaware of what had happened.” Doctors told the Times that, “[s]ometimes by instruction and sometimes by choice, they typically did not ask what the prisoners had experienced in interrogations,” a situation that seriously compromised their care. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Yemenis Approved for Release from Guantánamo, as Detention of Two Saudis Upheld, Including Torture Victim Mohammed Al-Qahtani

Yemeni prisoner Musa'ab al-Madhwani, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.With just 168 days left for President Obama to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, as he promised when he first took office in January 2009, the reassuring news is that there are now just 76 men held, and 34 of those men have been approved for release. 13 of the 34 were approved for release in Obama’s first year in office, by an inter-agency task force he established to review the cases of all the prisoners held at the start of his presidency, while 21 others have been approved for release since January 2014 by Periodic Review Boards. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list here on the Close Guantánamo website.

The PRBs, another inter-agency process, but this time similar to parole boards, have been reviewing the cases of all the men who are not facing trials and who had not already been approved for release, and, to date, 56 reviews have taken place, with 32 men being approved for release (and eleven of those already freed), and 16 approved for ongoing imprisonment, while eight decisions have yet to be taken. This is a 67% success rate for the prisoners, and ought to be a source of shame for the Obama administration’s task force, which described these men as “too dangerous to release” or recommended them for prosecution back in 2009.

In the cases of those described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but clearly failed to recognize that their recommendations were based on extreme, and, it turns out, unjustifiable caution. In the cases of those recommended for trials, embarrassingly, the basis for prosecution collapsed in 2012-13 when appeals court judges struck down some of the only convictions secured in the troubled military commission trial system on the basis that the war crimes for which the men had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Two Yemenis Mistakenly Identified as Members of Al-Qaeda Cell Seek Release from Guantánamo via Periodic Review Board

Yemeni Musa'ab al-Madhwani, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, two more Periodic Review Boards took place at Guantánamo, bringing to 51 the number of prisoners whose ongoing imprisonment has been reviewed by the US government since the PRBs were set up in 2013 (the 52nd took place today, and I’ll be writing about that soon). To date, 24 of those men have been recommended for release, 12 have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and 16 others are awaiting decisions. 12 other men are still awaiting reviews. For further information, see the definitive Periodic Review Board list that I wrote for the Close Guantánamo website.

Last week’s reviews were for the last two of six men seized in Karachi, Pakistan on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — the same day as alleged 9/11 conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh. They were then sent to be tortured in a “black site” in Afghanistan, and were subsequently identified by the US authorities as members of an Al-Qaeda cell in Karachi. In the first of the PRBs for the six, in February, for Ayoub Ali Saleh, it was revealed that the authorities have since walked back from their claims, conceding that “it is more likely the six Yemenis were among a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations.”

Saleh was recommended for release in March, and a second man, Bashir al-Marwalah, was approved for release in May, after a review in April. Decisions have not yet been taken in the cases of the other two — Said Salih Said Nashir, reviewed in April, and Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, reviewed in May, but it is reasonable to expect that, unless the men in question are unwilling or unable to demonstrate contrition, and a desire to resume peaceful lives, they will all be recommended for release. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Reviews: US Accepts that Former “Black Site” Prisoner, Like Five Others, Wasn’t Part of Al-Qaeda Plot, As Another Prisoner is Approved for Release

Majid Ahmed (aka Majid Ahmad), in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.As the countdown to the end of the Obama presidency continues (see the Countdown to Close Guantánamo we launched last month), and with just 329 days left for President Obama to fulfill the promise to close the prison that he made on his second day in office back in January 2009, we are reassured that progress continues in the Periodic Review Boards set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release and not facing trials — currently 46 of the 91 men still held, as one man has been approved for release, and another, seeking release, has had the military acknowledge that they exaggerated his role, and that he was “a low-level militant not part of an al-Qaida terrorist cell as previously believed,” as the Associated Press described it. Moreover, by extension, the same admission should apply to five other men seized at the same time as him, who are also still held and awaiting PRBs.

Just ten of the 91 men still held are facing trials, and of the 35 men already approved for release, eleven have been approved for release by PRBs, to add to seven others already freed after being approved for release.

In total, of the 21 decisions reached by the PRBs, 18 have led to recommendations that the men in question should be released — a success rate of 86%, which reveals the extent to which dangerous hyperbole has played such a significant part in the story of Guantánamo, as these are men regarded six years ago as “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, even though the task force also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Complain About Slow Progress of Periodic Review Boards

Guantanamo prisoner Ravil Mingazov, who us one of 36 men eligible for Periodic Review Boards, but who have not yet been given a date when their reviews will take place. This photo is of Ravil with his family, in a photo taken before his capture.Yesterday I published an article about the most recent Periodic Review Board to take place at Guantánamo, and I was reminded of how I’ve overlooked a couple of interesting articles about the PRBs published in the Guardian over the last six weeks.

When it comes to President Obama’s intention to close Guantánamo before he leaves office next January, the most crucial focus for his administration needs to be the Periodic Review Boards, featuring representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, and the offices of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff, as I have been highlighting through the recently launched Countdown to Close Guantánamo. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release, and ten are undergoing trials (or have already been through the trial process), leaving 47 others in a disturbing limbo.

Half these men were, alarmingly, described as “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

“Indefinite Detention is the Worst Form of Torture”: A Guantánamo Prisoner Speaks

On March 28, 2013, lawyers for Musa’ab al-Madhwani, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, and a victim of torture at a “black site” in Afghanistan in 2002, prior to his arrival at the prison, submitted an emergency motion to US District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan, in which they reported what al-Madhwani, held for the last ten and a half years, had told them in a phone call on March 25.

At the time, the emergency motion attracted some media attention because of al-Madhwani’s claims that prisoners were being denied access to drinking water and subjected to freezing cold temperatures in an attempt to break the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo. The hunger strike, which I have been covering assiduously, began two months ago, but the US authorities only reluctantly began to acknowledge its existence around three weeks ago, and although their response to al-Madhwani’s claims was an attempt to brush them aside, there are no valid reasons for trusting the authorities instead of al-Madhwani.

Col. John Bogdan, who responded to al-Madhwani’s complaints, oversees the prisoners at Guantánamo, and has explicitly been blamed by them for the deteriorating conditions of their detention, whereas al-Madhwani was described by Judge Hogan as a “model prisoner” over three years ago, when he denied his habeas corpus petition. Because of his perception that government allegations about a tenuous connection between al-Madhwani and al-Qaeda were correct (even though al-Madhwani continues to insist that no such connection existed), Judge Hogan said, as the Washington Post described it, that the government had met its burden in proving the accusations,” although “he did not think Madhwani was dangerous.” Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Seven Guantánamo Prisoners Whose Appeals Were Turned Down by the Supreme Court

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with 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.

This week, the Supreme Court took a decision not to accept appeals by seven Guantánamo prisoners who, over the last few years, either had their habeas petitions denied, or had their successful petitions overturned on appeal. The ruling came the day before the 4th anniversary of Boumediene v. Bush, the 2008 case in which the Supreme Court granted the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

That led to a number of stunning court victories for the prisoners between 2008 and 2010, but in the last two years no prisoners have had their habeas petitions granted, because judges in the D.C. Circuit Court, a bastion of Bush-era paranoia about the “war on terror,” where the deeply Conservative Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph holds sway, have unfairly rewritten the rules in the government’s favor, so that it is now almost impossible for a habeas petition to be granted. Read the rest of this entry »

Read the Center for Constitutional Rights’ “Faces of Guantánamo” Reports

In December, I was privileged to work with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights on three reports about Guantánamo that were published to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison on January 11, 2012, and released at a press conference in Washington D.C. that I reported here. The three reports are entitled, “Faces of Guantánamo: Resettlement,” “Faces of Guantánamo: Indefinite Detention,” and “Faces of Guantánamo: Torture” (also available via this page) and they present a comprehensive analysis of Guantánamo’s history, President Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised, and profiles of 20 of the 171 prisoners still held.

The first report, “Faces of Guantánamo: Resettlement,” focuses on the 89 prisoners still held who were cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, but who are still held either because they cannot be safely repatriated, and no country has volunteered to offer them a new home, or because they are Yemenis, and both the President and Congress have acted to prevent the release of any cleared Yemeni prisoners, even though this constitutes guilt by nationality, which is an indefensible generalization, and ought to be regarded as a profound shame.

The article explains in detail President Obama’s failures, including his refusal to allow any innocent prisoners (the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) to be settled in the US, and also describes how Congress has intervened to prevent the release of prisoners for nakedly political reasons. Included are recommendations for the Obama administration, and calls for other countries to help with the resettlement of those who cannot be safely repatriated. Read the rest of this entry »

Judges Keep Guantánamo Open Forever

Seven years ago, on June 28, 2004, the Supreme Court issued a historically important ruling in Rasul v. Bush, establishing that foreign nationals held at the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right, under the “Great Writ,” first established in England in 1215, to ask an impartial judge to rule on whether there were grounds for their detention.

A bulwark against arbitrary imprisonment, habeas corpus was essential for the prisoners at Guantánamo, who, for the previous two and a half years, had been held in what Lord Steyn, a British law lord, described as a “legal black hole” in a speech in November 2003, unable to seek any redress whatsoever if, as many of them claimed, they had been seized by mistake.

With breathtaking arrogance, the Bush administration had refused to screen those it captured through Article 5 competent tribunals. Also known as battlefield tribunals, these are part of the Geneva Conventions, designed to screen prisoners who, like those in the “War on terror,” were not part of a regular army. The US military had used them since Vietnam, and in the first Gulf War, for example, had held 1196 tribunals, and, in 886 cases (74 percent), found it had detained civilians instead of combatants, and released them (PDF, p.663). 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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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