Close Guantánamo: Lawyers Decry Broken Military Commission System and Status of “Forever Prisoners” in Washington Post Op-Ed

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the US Congress on Monday January 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison. (Photo by Alli Jarrar of Amnesty International).

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As the 19th anniversary of the the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay recedes, and the inauguration of Joe Biden hoves into view, it remains crucial that all of us who oppose the continued existence of Guantánamo continue to discuss the 40 men still held there, the inadequacy of the status of all of them (six approved for release but still held, nine charged or tried in a broken trial system, and 25 consigned to oblivion as “forever prisoners”), and to demand its closure.

On the anniversary, along with the various online events and interviews, Newsweek distinguished itself by being the only mainstream US media outlet to focus on the anniversary, publishing a powerful op-ed by former prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Salahi, which I posted the day after on the Close Guantánamo website.

The only other mainstream media coverage I’ve found came the day after the anniversary in the Washington Post, where two attorneys with the Military Commissions Defense Organization, civilian defense counsel Brian Bouffard, and Aaron Shepard, a lieutenant commander in the US Navy JAG Corps, wrote what really ought to be an epitaph for Guantánamo’s broken military commission trial system, and for the rotten policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial that is the main hallmark of Guantánamo’s unforgivable exceptionalism, as the prison begins its 20th year of operations. The op-ed is cross-posted below.

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In Trump’s Dying Days, Guantánamo Review Board Approves Yemeni Prisoner for Release

On the left: Said Salih Said Nashir (aka Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo who has just had his release approved by a Periodic Review Board. The other men are Moath al-Alwi and Omar al-Rammah, who, unfortunately, had their ongoing imprisonment upheld by PRBs, nearly three and four years respectively since their hearings took place.

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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.

In the three years and eleven months since Donald Trump’s inauguration, there has been — until now — no good news from Guantánamo. That first piece of good news, reported by NPR on December 11, is that Said Salih Said Nashir, a 46-year old Yemeni held at Guantánamo without charge or trial for 18 years, has been unanimously approved for release from the prison by a Periodic Review Board.

Consisting of a panel of military and intelligence officials, the Periodic Review Boards were established by President Obama, to review the cases of men held at Guantánamo who had not been recommended for release by Obama’s first high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.

The task force’s report — recommending 156 prisoners for release, 36 for prosecution, and 48 for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial — was issued in January 2010, but by the time the PRBs took place, beginning in November 2013, just 41 of the 48 men recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial remained: two had died, and five others — high-ranking Taliban officials — were freed in a prisoner swap.

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“A Big Black Stain That Provides No Benefit Whatsoever”: Lawyers Urge Joe Biden to Close Guantánamo

An unidentified prisoner in the recreation yard of Camp 6 at Guantánamo Bay, probably photographed in 2015 (Photo: AFP).

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One month since the Presidential Election, and with less than seven weeks until Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, it’s reassuring that the need for the prison at Guantánamo Bay to be closed is being discussed in the US media. 40 men are still held at Guantánamo — five approved for release by high-level government review process under President Obama; nine facing or having faced trials in the military commissions; and 26 others officially held indefinitely without charge or trial.

For the Associated Press — in a story entitled, “Biden’s win means some Guantánamo prisoners may be released,” which was widely picked up on and reported across the US and around the world — longtime Guantánamo watcher Ben Fox began by speaking to attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who was at  Guantánamo for her client Saifullah Paracha’s latest Periodic Review Board hearing.

Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, Paracha, 73, whose case I have covered extensively, has diabetes and a heart condition, and is one of the 26 “forever prisoners,” held on an ongoing basis without charge or trial because the US authorities allege that they pose some kind of “threat” to national security. However, as Ben Fox explained, he “went to his latest review board hearing with a degree of hope, something that has been scarce during his 16 years locked up without charges at the US base in Cuba,” because, as he added, he “had two things going for him that he didn’t have at previous hearings: a favorable legal development and the election of Joe Biden.”

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A Guantánamo Insider’s Detailed Proposal for How Joe Biden Can Finally Close the Prison

A composite image of President Elect Joe Biden and Camp 6 at Guantánamo.

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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.

With Joe Biden’s victory in the Presidential Election, it’s reassuring that Guantánamo is back on the radar, after four long years under Donald Trump in which time may as well have stood still.

The Just Security website has just published a powerful article, “A Path for Renewing Guantánamo Closure,” which we’re cross-posting below. It was written by Benjamin R. Farley, who served as Senior Adviser to the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure at the U.S. Department of State from 2013-17, and is currently a Trial Attorney and Law-of-War Counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense, Military Commissions Defense Organization, assigned to the team representing Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five co-defendants in the 9/11 trial.

Farley explains how, of the 40 men still held, 30 can be released “simply by restoring, with slight modification, the successful GTMO closure policy process developed during the Obama administration,” although he concedes that, “[t]o finish the remaining 25 percent of the project, [he] will likely need the historically elusive support of Congress.”

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As You Read This, Guantánamo Prisoner Ahmed Rabbani Has Been On A Hunger Strike for 2,846 Days

An image from the website, “Gitmo Hunger Strikes,” set up by Reprieve to highlight the plight of their client, Ahmed Rabbani.

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With the media spotlight hopefully being shone anew on the prison at Guantánamo Bay, now that Joe Biden has been elected as the US president, it is to be hoped that, as I explained in my recent article, President Elect Biden, It’s Time to Close Guantánamo, arrangements will be made to release the five men still held who were unanimously approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, and that there will be an acceptance within the Biden administration that holding 26 other men indefinitely without charge or trial is unacceptable.

These 26 men — accurately described as “forever prisoners” by the media — were recommended either or for prosecution, or for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence — or insufficient untainted evidence — existed for them to be charged, by the first of Obama’s two review processes, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, in 2009.

Four years later, the 26 — along with 38 others — were deemed eligible for a second review process, the Periodic Review Boards. Unlike the first process, which involved officials assessing whether prisoners should be freed, charged or held on an ongoing basis without charge or trial, the PRBs were a parole-type process, in which the men were encouraged to express contrition for the activities in which they were alleged to have been involved (whether those allegations were accurate or not), and to present credible proposals for a peaceful and constructive life if released.

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President Elect Biden, It’s Time to Close Guantánamo

Eight of the 40 remaining Guantánamo prisoners, who, along with other men still held, should be released by Joe Biden as soon as possible after he becomes president in January 2021. Top row, from L to R: Abdul Latif Nasser, Sufyian Barhoumi and Tawfiq al-Bihani, all approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, and Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner. Bottom row, from L to R: Khaled Qassim, Asadullah Haroon Gul, Ahmed Rabbani and Omar al-Rammah. Paracha and the four others in the bottom row haven’t been approved for release, but they should be, as none of them pose a threat to the US.

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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.

Congratulations to President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris for persuading enough people to vote Democrat to end the dangerous presidency of Donald Trump.

Trump was a nightmare on so many fronts, and had been particularly dangerous on race, with his vile Muslim travel ban at the start of his presidency, nearly four long years ago, his prisons for children on the Mexican border, and, this last year, in his efforts to inflame a race war, after the murder of George Floyd by a policeman sparked huge protests across the country.

At Guantánamo, Trump’s racism manifested itself via indifference to the fate of the 40 Muslim men, mostly imprisoned without charge or trial and held for up to 15 years when he took office. To him they were terrorists, and he had no interest in knowing that very few of the men held at Guantánamo have ever been accused of involvement with terrorism, and that, of the 40 men still held, only nine of them have been charged with crimes, and five of them were unanimously approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

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Asadullah Haroon Gul: The Hunger Striking Afghan Forgotten at Guantánamo

Sehar Bibi, the mother of Guantánamo prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul, at the refugee camp in Peshawar where she lives with her son’s wife and daughter, and other family members. Gul has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since 2007. (Photo: AFP/Abdul Majeed).

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Regular readers will recall the sad story of Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans amongst the 40 men still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay. In correspondence from Guantánamo this year, Gul has written about the coronavirus, about being a “no value detainee”, and about the murder by police of George Floyd and the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement.

As seems abundantly clear — to everyone except his captors — Gul, one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo, in June 2007, is a fundamentally insignificant prisoner whose ongoing imprisonment makes no sense. The US has quite nebulously alleged that he was involved with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), led by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had supported Al-Qaeda at the time of the US-led invasion. However, as I explained in July, “Gul very clearly had no meaningful connection with HIG, his involvement extending only to having lived, with his wife and family, in a refugee camp that HIG ran, but, as in so many cases of mistaken identity at Guantánamo, the US authorities didn’t care.”

To add insult to injury, Hekmatyar’s status has now changed. He reached a peace agreement with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, and at the start of this year a former Guantánamo prisoner with HIG associations, Hamidullah, was repatriated from the United Arab Emirates, where he had been sent with other Afghans in 2016, because of this agreement, surely undermining any efforts by the US to claim that Gul should still be held.

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“I Am Not Even Allowed To Hear My Own Story”: A Letter from Guantánamo by Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release But Still Held By Donald Trump

A composite image produced by Esquire Middle East to accompany their recent publication of a poignant and powerful letter from Guantánamo by the Moroccan prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, cross-posted below.

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.

Since the vocal British resident Shaker Aamer and the best-selling author and torture victim Mohamedou Ould Salahi were released from Guantánamo, in 2015 and 2016, the prison population has lacked a prominent and well-known face to illuminate its continuing injustice.

This has been particularly unfortunate because, for the last three and a half years, Guantánamo has been largely forgotten by the mainstream media, demonstrating, to anyone paying attention, that a dangerous and unprincipled leader (in this case, Donald Trump) can, in a supposedly liberal democracy, make people forget about a gross and lingering injustice largely by pretending that it doesn’t exist — or, in Guantánamo’s case, by metaphorically sealing it shut and largely ignoring it.

This is particularly shameful because Guantánamo is not just a symbol of injustice; it is also the place where the United States’ notion of itself as a country that respects the rule of law was sent to die on January 11, 2002, and has been dead ever since. At Guantánamo, 40 men are still held, but the majority of those men are still held in the same despicable conditions of lawlessness that first prevailed on that winter morning over 18 and a half years ago when the Bush administration first released photos of the prisoners it intended to hold, without any rights whatsoever, and quite possibly for the rest of their lives.

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If Elected in November, Will Joe Biden Close Guantánamo?

A composite photo of Joe Biden and a guard tower at Guantánamo.

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.

With just four months to go until the US Presidential Election, there is hope, in some quarters, that Donald Trump will lose to Joe Biden. The fact that this is not a foregone conclusion shows how broken American politics has become. Openly racist, Trump has been the most incoherent president imaginable, and is currently mired in a COVID-19 crisis of his own making, as the virus continues on its deadly path, largely unchecked, through swathes of the US population. And yet he retains a base of support that doesn’t make it certain that he will lose in November.

His opponent, Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years, faces problems of his own. 77 years old, he is even older than Trump, and in terms of representing the people of the US, it is somewhat dispiriting that the choice is between two white men in their 70s. Nevertheless, on many fronts — not least on Guantánamo — it is inconceivable that Biden can do a worse job than Trump has over the excruciating three and a half years since he took office in January 2017.

On Guantánamo, Trump announced in a tweet, several weeks before his inauguration, that “there must be no more releases from Gitmo,” and he has been almost entirely true to his word. He inherited 41 prisoners from Obama, and only one of those men has been released — a Saudi citizen who was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment in February 2018, to honor a plea deal agreed in his military commission trial in 2014.

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“I Can’t Breathe”: Afghan Prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul on Black Lives Matter and Violent Oppression in Guantánamo

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

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Over the last few months I’ve cross-posted, on two occasions, articles by Asadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan prisoner in Guantánamo who is seeking the support of his government in securing his release — A Coronavirus Lament by Guantánamo Prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul and Asadullah Haroon Gul, a “No-Value Detainee,” and One of the Last Two Afghans in Guantánamo, Asks to Be Freed — and below I’m cross-posting a third, written in response to the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and originally published in Newsweek. In it, Gul takes George Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” and draws parallels with the brutal treatment of prisoners in Guantánamo, himself included, expressing support for Black Lives Matter and hoping that, like the civil rights movement, it will bring significant change.

As he states, “America’s business is not my business but if human beings anywhere are struggling for justice, I must support them even from my cell in Guantánamo Bay. Perhaps my brothers and sisters marching in the streets will turn their eyes on this island prison, and witness our common cause.”

One of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo, in June 2007, Gul was apparently seized because of his alleged involvement with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), led by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had supported Al-Qaeda at the time of the US-led invasion. Gul very clearly had no meaningful connection with HIG, his involvement extending only to having lived, with his wife and family, in a refugee camp that HIG ran, but, as in so many cases of mistaken identity at Guantánamo, the US authorities didn’t care.

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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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