Video: I Discuss the Possible Closure of the Prison at Guantánamo Bay on RT America

A screenshot of Andy Worthington being interviewed on RT America on July 20, 2021.

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On Tuesday evening, I was pleased to be asked by RT America for an interview regarding the prospects of the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay after the release of Abdul Latif Nasser, the first release from the prison under Joe Biden, since he was inaugurated as president six months ago, and the first release for over three years.

Speaking to Scottie Nell Hughes, I explained how the closure of Guantánamo ought to now be within sight, with just 39 men still held, and only twelve of those men facing trials, or having gone through the trial process. Of the 27 others, ten — like Nasser — have also been approved for release, while the 17 others have never been charged, and have been aptly described as America’s “forever prisoners,” a label that no country that claims to respect the rule of law should want clinging to them.

Fortunately, as I also explained, 19 and a half years since Guantánamo opened, there is now a widespread acceptance within the US mainstream political culture that it is unacceptable to continue endlessly holding men who have never been charged with a crime, and, by the government’s own admissions over the years, never will be.

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Biden Frees First Prisoner from Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, Approved for Release Five Years Ago

Abdul Latif Nasser, in a photo taken at Guantánamo in recent years.

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In great news from Guantánamo, the Department of Defense announced today that Abdul Latif Nasser (aka Nasir), the last Moroccan national in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, has been repatriated. I’ve been writing about Nasser’s case since I first began researching and writing about Guantánamo over 15 years ago, and in recent years his story has frequently featured in the media, not least via a six-part Radiolab series last year.

Nasser, 56, was approved for release five years and eight days ago, after a Periodic Review Board, a review process set up under President Obama, established that, to use the PRB’s own studiously careful terminology, “law of war detention of Abdul Latif Nasir no longer remained necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States.” As a result, as the DoD’s news release explained, the board — which “consists of one senior career official from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, along with the Joint Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence” — authorized his “repatriation to his native country of Morocco, subject to security and humane treatment assurances.”

Nasser’s release from Guantánamo should have been straightforward, but the paperwork between the US and the Moroccan government wasn’t completed until 22 days before Obama left office, and, because legislation passed by Congress stipulated that lawmakers had to be informed 30 days before a prisoner release, he missed being freed by just eight days.

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UN Experts Condemn UAE Plans to Forcibly Repatriate Former Guantánamo Prisoner Ravil Mingazov to Russia, Where He Faces “Substantial Risk of Torture”

Ravil Mingazov, photographed at Guantánamo before his transfer to the UAE in January 2017.

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Yesterday (July 2), UN human rights experts, including Nils Melzer, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, condemned the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for its proposals to repatriate Ravil Mingazov, a former Guantánamo prisoner who was sent to the UAE from Guantánamo in January 2017, just before President Obama left office.

Despite what the experts describe as “informal assurances guaranteeing his release into Emirati society after undergoing a short-term rehabilitation programme,” Mingazov — and 22 other former prisoners (18 Yemenis and four Afghans), who were sent to the UAE from Guantánamo between November 2015 and January 2017 — found that, on their arrival in the UAE, the assurances evaporated, and they have instead been “subjected to continuous arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location in the UAE, which amounts to enforced disappearance.”

The only exceptions to this continued pattern of “arbitrary detention” and “enforced disappearance” are three of the Afghans, who, after suffering the same disgraceful treatment, were repatriated as a result of peace negotiations in Afghanistan involving the Afghan government and Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), a militant group that had supported al-Qaeda at the time of the US-led invasion of 2001, but that reached a peace deal with the Afghan government in 2016.

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Who Are the Two “Forever Prisoners” Approved for Release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Boards?

Guantánamo protests over the years: on the left, Abdulsalam al-Hela’s children call for his release from Guantánamo in Yemen in 2005, and, on the right, Sharqawi al-Hajj’s attorney, Pardiss Kebriaei, calls for his release outside the White House on January 11, 2018.

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In extraordinary news from Guantánamo, two more “forever prisoners” — the Yemeni tribal leader Abdulsalam al-Hela, 53, and Sharqawi al-Hajj, 47, another Yemeni, and a long-term hunger striker — have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards, the parole-type system established under President Obama, to add to the three approved for release in May.

Eleven of the 40 men still held have now been approved for release — the five under Biden, one under Trump, the only two of the 38 men approved for release by the PRBs under Obama who didn’t manage to escape the prison before he left office, and three other men, still languishing in Guantánamo despite being approved for release by Obama’s first review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, in 2010.

No one who cares about the need for Guantánamo to be closed should be in any doubt about the significance of these decisions.

Both men arrived at Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” in September 2004, and were both regarded as being of significance when the Guantánamo Review Task Force published its report about what President Obama should do with the 240 prisoners he inherited from George W. Bush in January 2010. At that time, as was finally revealed when the Task Force’s “Dispositions” were released in June 2013, Sharqawi al-Hajj was one of 36 men “[r]eferred for prosecution,” while al-Hela was one of 48 others recommended for “[c]ontinued detention pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001), as informed by principles of the laws of war, subject to further review by the Principals prior to the detainee’s transfer to a detention facility in the United States.”

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Retired Admirals Urge Biden to Release Everyone at Guantánamo Not Charged With a Crime — 28 of the 40 Men Still Held

Retired Rear Admirals Donald J. Guter and John Hutson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the Nation calling on President Biden to release all the men at Guantánamo who have not been charged with a crime — 28 men out of the 40 still held.

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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.

Since Joe Biden became president five months ago, there have been numerous high-profile calls for him to fulfill a promise that President Obama failed to fulfill (when Biden was vice president) and that Donald Trump had no interest in whatsoever; namely, closing the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay.

A week after President Biden’s inauguration, 111 organizations, including Close Guantánamo, sent a letter to the new president urging him to close the prison, around the same time that seven former prisoners — all authors —  wrote an open letter to Biden, urging the prison’s closure, which was published in the New York Review of Books. Other calls for the prison have come from Bill Clinton advisor Anthony Lake and our co-founder, the attorney Tom Wilner, from Lee Wolosky, former Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure under Barack Obama, and from former CIA analyst Gail Helt.

The most seismic shift, politically, came in April when 24 Senators wrote a letter to the president, not only urging him to close the prison, but also providing details of how that can be achieved — through the appointment of a senior White House official to oversee the closure process, and also though the re-establishment of the Office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure at the State Department, established by Obama but shut down under Trump, which was responsible for “identifying transfer countries and negotiating transfer agreements.”

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Biden’s Slow Progress on Closing Guantánamo

A composite image of President Biden and a tattered US flag at Guantánamo.

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An article last week by NBC News — “Biden quietly moves to start closing Guantánamo ahead of 20th anniversary of 9/11” — was widely shared by opponents of the continued existence of the shameful prison at Guantánamo Bay, but frustratingly failed to live up to the promise of its headline.

40 men are still held at Guantánamo, and nine of these men have been approved for release by high-level US government review processes — three in 2010, two in 2016, one in 2020, and three just last month, in decisions taken by the Periodic Review Boards set up under President Obama that show a willingness on the part of the Biden administration to recognize that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that continues to hold, indefinitely, men who have been held for up to 19 years, and have never been charged with a crime.

The PRBs reviewed the cases of 64 men under Obama, and approved 38 of them for release, but since then the process of reviewing the other 26 men has largely ossified into rigid threat assessments based on the initial decisions taken under Obama. That has finally changed with the recent decisions to approve three men for release, and it is to be hoped that further recommendations for release will be forthcoming in the PRBs, although none of this will mean anything if these men are not actually freed.

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Fighting Guantánamo in the Courts Under President Biden

Three of the Guantánamo prisoners who are currently seeking their release from the prison through the US courts. From L to R: Khalid Qassim and Abdulsalam al-Hela, both Yemenis, and Asadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan.

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I wrote the following article (as “The Ongoing Legal Struggles to Secure Justice for the Guantánamo Prisoners Under President Biden”) 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.

In the nineteen unforgivably long years since the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay was first established, lawyers have worked tirelessly to challenge and overturn the Bush administration’s outrageous contention that everyone who ended up at Guantánamo was an “enemy combatant” with no rights whatsoever, who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

There have been victories along the way, but the sad truth is that Guantánamo’s fundamental lawlessness remains intact to this day. Since 2010, only one prisoner has been freed because of the actions of lawyers and the US courts (a Sudanese man whose mental health issues persuaded the Justice Department, in this one instance only, not to challenge his habeas corpus petition), and, as the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency showed, if the president doesn’t want anyone released from Guantánamo, no legal avenue exists to compel him to do otherwise.

The lawyers’ great legal victories for the Guantánamo prisoners came in the Supreme Court in what now seems to be the distant, long-lost past. In June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right to have the evidence against them objectively assessed by a judge. That ruling allowed lawyers into the prison to begin to represent the men held, breaking the veil of secrecy that had allowed abusive conditions to thrive, but Congress then intervened to block the habeas legislation, and it was not until June 2008 that the Supreme Court, revisiting Guantánamo, ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that Congress had acted unconstitutionally, and affirmed that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas rights.

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Great News from Guantánamo As Three “Forever Prisoners,” Including 73-Year Old Saifullah Paracha, Are Approved for Release

Guantánamo prisoners Saifullah Paracha, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, whose long overdue release from the prison was approved by Periodic Review Boards on Monday, although it is not yet known when they will actually be released.

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In extremely encouraging news from Guantánamo, three men have been approved for release from the prison by Periodic Review Boards, the high-level government review process established under President Obama.

The three men are: 73-year old Pakistani citizen Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner; Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, another Pakistani citizen who is 54 years old; and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, a 41-year old Yemeni. All have been held without charge or trial at Guantánamo for between 17 and 19 years.

Between November 2013 and January 2017, when President Obama left office, the Periodic Review Boards — consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — reviewed the cases of 64 prisoners, to ascertain whether or not they should still be regarded as a threat to the US, and, in 38 cases, recommended the prisoners for release. All but two of these men were released before the end of Obama’s presidency.

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Afghan Government Calls for Release of Guantánamo “Forever Prisoner” Asadullah Haroon Gul

Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans at Guantánamo, as featured in a photo taken at the prison by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.

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As we await further information from the Biden administration about its planned review of Guantánamo, it’s reassuring to see that the Afghan government has submitted an amicus brief in a US court as part of efforts to secure the release and repatriation of Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans in Guantánamo, after 14 years of imprisonment at Guantánamo without charge or trial, in which, for the first nine years, he didn’t even have representation by a lawyer.

I have followed Gul’s story since he arrived at Guantánamo from Afghanistan in June 2007, as one of the last prisoners to be sent to the prison. He had allegedly been involved with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIA, also identified as HIG), a group led by the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had briefly been aligned with al-Qaeda after the US-led invasion in October 2001, but the US authorities had never regarded him as significant, because he is the only Guantánamo prisoner not to have been assigned a Guantánamo Internment Serial Number (ISN). Instead, his prisoner serial number (3148) is from Bagram. This is significant because a Guantánamo number is required to be eligible for an administrative review at Guantánamo (a Combatant Status Review Tribunal), which is required if a prisoner is to be charged.

Even more significant is the fact that, even if Gul was involved with HIA, Hekmatyar no longer has any connection to al-Qaeda, and HIA “ceased all hostilities with the United States” in 2016, following a peace agreement in 2016 between HIA and the Afghan government, as the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains in the brief, adding that “[d]etainees who are not a member of Al Qaida or the Taliban must be released if their organization is no longer engaged in hostilities with the United States.” In August, Hekmatyar’s return to Afghan political life was confirmed when he was appointed to the Afghan government’s High Council for National Reconciliation.

As the Ministry also points out, “Members of the United States Government have recognized this end to hostilities by negotiating with members of HIA. Thus, Haroon, a member of HIA, should be released.”

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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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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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