Guantánamo Scandal: Eleven Men Were Set to Be Freed Last October, Until “Political Optics” Shifted After Hamas’ Attack on Israel

The eleven Yemeni prisoners who were supposed to be resettled in Oman in October 2023. Top row, from L to R: Moath Al-Alwi, Khaled Qassim, Toffiq Al-Bihani, Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah, Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman. Middle row: Sharqawi Al-Hajj, Abdulsalam Al-Hela, Sanad Al-Kazimi, Suhayl Al-Sharabi, Zakaria Al-Baidany. Bottom row: Hassan Bin Attash.

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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.

Thanks to NBC News, and the four anonymous US government officials who spoke to them, for exposing the latest scandal involving the US prison at Guantánamo Bay — the refusal of the Biden administration to release eleven men, for whom long months of negotiation had secured a safe and viable resettlement option, because of the perceived “political optics” of freeing them after the attacks on Israel by Hamas and other militants on October 7.

Within Guantánamo circles, this scandal was well known, but attorneys for the men had been subjected to a Protective Order issued by the government, preventing them from talking about it, and, as a result, they had all dutifully kept quiet, as had others, like myself, who had got to know about it.

Their silence is, in itself, an indictment of how the US government operates at Guantánamo, as I also recognised when I refused to publicize it, because of the fundamentally lawless situation in which these men are held.

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Held for 900 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Sanad Al-Kazimi, a Yemeni Torture Victim

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Today marks 900 days since Sanad al-Kazimi, a 54-year old Yemeni, and a father of four, was unanimously approved for release from Guantánamo by a Periodic Review Board, a high-level US government review process established under President Obama.

This article, telling his story, is the ninth in an ongoing series of ten articles, published since early February, telling the stories of the 16 men (out of 30 still held at Guantánamo in total) who have long been approved for release. The articles are published alternately here and on the Close Guantánamo website, with their publication tied into significant dates in their long ordeal.

While most of the 779 men held at Guantánamo since it opened over 22 years ago were picked up — or bought — in Afghanistan or Pakistan and processed through military prisons in Afghanistan before their arrival at  Guantánamo (mostly between December 2001 and November 2003), al-Kazimi was one of around 40 prisoners whose arrival at Guantánamo involved a more circuitous route, through the network of CIA “black sites” established and run in other countries between March 2002 and September 2006, and, in some cases, in proxy prisons in other countries run on behalf of the CIA.

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Held for 600 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Khaled Qassim, a Talented Artist

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Sunday (March 10) marked 600 days since Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), a 47-year old Yemeni, was unanimously approved for release from Guantánamo by a Periodic Review Board, a high-level US government review process.

That decision took place on July 19, 2022, but nearly 20 months later Khaled is still awaiting his freedom, a victim, like the 15 other men unanimously approved for release by high-level US government review processes, of an inertia at the very top of the US government — in the White House, and in the offices of Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State.

For the last year and a half, an official in the State Department — former ambassador Tina Kaidanow — has been working on resettling the men approved for release, most of whom, like Khaled, are Yemenis, and cannot be sent home because of a ban on their repatriation, inserted by Republicans into the annual National Defense Authorization Act in the early days of Barack Obama’s presidency, and renewed every year since.

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Held for 800 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Moath Al-Alwi, Zakaria Al-Baidany and Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu

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This is the fifth in a new series of ten articles, alternately posted here and on the Close Guantánamo website, telling the stories of the 16 men still held at Guantánamo (out of 30 men in total), who have long been approved for release from the prison by high-level US government review processes, but have no idea of when, if ever, they will actually be freed. The first four articles are here, here, here and here.

Shamefully, these men are still held because the reviews were purely administrative, meaning that no legal mechanism exists to compel the US government to free them, if, as is apparent, senior officials are unwilling to prioritize their release.

To be fair, most of these men cannot be repatriated, because of US laws preventing the return of men from Guantánamo to countries including Yemen, where most of the men are from, but if senior officials — especially President Biden and Antony Blinken — cared enough, these men would already have been freed, and the suspicion, sadly, must be that they are failing to do anything because the they don’t want to upset the handful of Republican lawmakers who are fanatical in their support for Guantánamo’s continued existence, while they seek the GOP’s cooperation in funding military support for Israel and Ukraine.

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At Guantánamo, Accomplices in the 2002 Bali Bombings Reach A Plea Deal, May Be Released By 2029

Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep and Hambali (Riduan Isamuddin), photographed 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.

Last month, two men that almost no one has heard of — despite them being held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for three years, and then held at Guantánamo for over 17 years — entered guilty pleas in their military commission trial at the war court on the grounds of the US military base in Cuba where the prison is located.

The two men are Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, 47, and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, 48, the only two Malaysians held at Guantánamo. Designated as “high-value detainees,” they were brought to Guantánamo in September 2006 with 12 other “high-value detainees,” who had also been held and tortured for years in CIA “black sites.”

However, like most of these 14 men, their stories are largely unknown to the majority of US citizens, and to the majority of those in the US who claim to be journalists, even though, if we were to attach a Bush administration-approved description to them, it would be that they were, allegedly, “the worst of the worst of the worst.”

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Held for 1,000 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman

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In the first of a new series of profiles of men held at Guantánamo — specifically, the 16 men (out of the 30 still held) who have long been approved for release by high-level US government review processes — I’m focusing on Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, a 43-year old Yemeni citizen, who, today, has been held for 1,000 days since the US authorities first decided that they no longer wanted to hold him.

Uthman arrived at Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, five days after the prison opened, when he was just 21 years old, and, as a result, he has been held for over half his life at Guantánamo. The photo is from his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and dating from April 2008, meaning that he would have been 27 years old, or younger, when it was taken.

Since his arrival at Guantánamo — 8,058 days ago (that’s 22 years and 22 days) — Uthman has been held without charge or trial, and with no sign of when, if ever, he will eventually be freed, even though the high-level government review process that approved him for release concluded unanimously, on May 13, 2021, that “continued law of war detention is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

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“Forever Prisoner” Muhammad Rahim, the Last Afghan in Guantánamo, Eloquently Pleads For His Release

Muhammad Rahim, photographed at Guantánamo in recent years by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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On August 15, completely unremarked on by the mainstream media, Muhammad Rahim, the last Afghan held at Guantánamo, issued a heartfelt and eloquent plea for a panel of military and intelligence officers to approve his release from the prison, where he has been held for over 15 years without charge or trial.

Rahim, who is 57 years old, and in poor health, made his plea at a Periodic Review Board hearing, a process described by the media, when they can be bothered to pay attention to it, as a type of parole hearing — disregarding the crucial aspect that distinguishes it from parole hearings in the federal prison system, where the men given an opportunity to ask for their freedom have been convicted of a crime in federal court, and have received a prison sentence as a result.

Established under President Obama, the Periodic Review Boards were created to review the cases of men regarded as “too dangerous to release,” but against whom insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — men accurately described as “forever prisoners.” Since November 2013, 58 men have been approved for release by PRBs, with 20 of those decisions taking place since President Biden took office (although most of those 20 men, shamefully, have not yet been freed).

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Please Write to the Guantánamo Prisoners, to Let Them Know We Remember Them

15 of the 16 men still held at Guantánamo who have been approved for release. Top row, from L to R: Moath Al-Alwi, Khalid Qasim, Ridah Al-Yazidi, Muieen Abd Al-Sattar, Toffiq Al-Bihani. Middle row: Said Salih Said Nashir, Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, Sharqawi Al-Hajj, Abdulsalam Al-Hela, Sanad Al-Kazimi. Bottom row: Suhayl Al-Sharabi, Gouled Hassan Dourad, Omar Al-Rammah, Mohammed Abdul Malik, Hassan Bin Attash.

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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.

It’s 13 years since two Muslim activist friends in the UK initiated a project to get people to write to the Guantánamo prisoners still held at that time — 186 in total — and I adopted it, and have been running it ever since; initially, once or twice a year, although more sporadically in recent years.

When I last posted a request for people to write to the men still held, just over a year into the Biden presidency, 39 men were still held at the prison. That number has now fallen to 30, but, after a flurry of releases earlier this year, a kind of dreadful deadly stasis has once more descended on Guantánamo.

Although 16 of the men still held have been unanimously approved for release by high-level government review processes — mostly via the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), introduced in 2013 — no one can say when they might actually be freed. This is because the majority of them cannot be sent back to their home countries, as a result of bans imposed by Republicans every year in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), meaning that third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them new homes.

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After First Ever Guantánamo Visit, UN Rapporteur Finds Dehumanized, Traumatized Men Subjected to Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment That May Rise to the Level of Torture

Campaigners for the closure of Guantánamo outside a US government building in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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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.

On Monday June 26, 7,837 days since the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, and on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council (“independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective”) issued a devastatingly critical report about systemic, historic and ongoing human rights abuses at the prison, based on the first ever visit by a Special Rapporteur — Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, who visited the prison in February.

At the time of her visit, just 34 men were held at the prison (a number now reduced to 30), out of the 779 men and boys who have been held by the US military throughout the prison’s long history, and, as the Special Rapporteur admitted, she agreed with every “detainee or former detainee,” who, “[i]n every meeting she held” with them, told her, “with great regret,” that she had arrived “too late.”

However, it is crucial to understand that the lateness of the visit was not through a lack of effort on the part of the UN; rather, it was a result of a persistent lack of cooperation by the US authorities — part of a pattern of obstruction, secrecy and surveillance that prevented any UN visit because the authorities failed to comply with the Terms of Reference for Country Visits by Special Procedure Mandate Holders, which require “[c]onfidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and other private persons, including persons deprived of their liberty.”

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The Broken Old Men of Guantánamo

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, the most physically disabled of Guantánamo’s 30 remaining prisoners, whose inadequate medical treatment at the prison was recently condemned in a scathing UN report.

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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 recent months, an often-submerged story at Guantánamo — of aging torture victims with increasingly complex medical requirements, trapped in a broken justice system, and of the US government’s inability to care for them adequately — has surfaced though a number of reports that are finally shining a light on the darkest aspects of a malignant 21-year experiment that, throughout this whole time, has regularly trawled the darkest recesses of American depravity.

Over the years, those of us who have devoted our energies to getting the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed have tended to focus on getting prisoners never charged with a crime released, because, since the Bush years, when, largely without meeting much resistance, George W. Bush released two-thirds of the 779 men and boys rounded up so haphazardly in the years following the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, getting prisoners out of Guantánamo has increasingly resembled getting blood out of a stone.

Apart from a brief period from 2008 to 2010, when the law finally reached Guantánamo through habeas corpus (before cynical appeals court judges took it away again), getting out of Guantánamo has involved overcoming government inertia (for several years under Obama) or open hostility (under Trump), repeated administrative review processes characterized by extreme caution regarding prisoners never charged with a crime, and against whom the supposed evidence is, to say the least, flimsy (which led to over 60 men being accurately described by the media as “forever prisoners”), and many dozens of cases in which, when finally approved for release because of this fundamental lack of evidence, the men in question have had to wait (often for years) for new homes to be found for them in third countries.

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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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