Afghan Prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul Freed From Guantánamo, Where 36 Men Now Remain, 20 Approved For Release

Asadullah Haroon Gul (on the right), reunited with his father in Afghanistan on June 25, 2022 after being held in Guantánamo for 15 years without charge or trial.

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Good news from Guantánamo, where the prison’s population has dropped to 36 with the release of the Afghan prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul.

In a deal negotiated with the ruling Taliban government in Afghanistan, Gul was flown to Qatar, where he was welcomed by Taliban representatives who then arranged from him to be flown home to Afghanistan, to be reunited with his family, including his parents, his wife and his daughter, who he has not seen since she was a baby.

Gul’s release brings to an end a 15-year ordeal of imprisonment without charge or trial, which began when he arrived at Guantánamo in June 2007, at the age of 25 or 26, as one of the last detainees to arrive at the prison, having been seized in Afghanistan four months earlier.

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As Majid Khan Asks a Court to Order His Release from Guantánamo, 100 Days Since Completing His Sentence, 20 Other Prisoners, Never Charged or Tried, Also Await Their Freedom

Guantánamo prisoner Majid Khan, photographed as a student in 1999, and in recent years 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.

On paper, the prospects for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay are better now than they have been at any other time in its unforgivably long and bleak 20-year history.

Just 37 men are still held (less than five percent of the total number of prisoners held by the US military since the prison opened on January 11, 2002), and 21 of these men have been approved for release.

The problem, however, is that there is absolutely no sense of urgency within the Biden administration when it comes to freeing them.

20 of these men have been approved for release by high-level government review processes, and I’ll be discussing them in the second part of this article, but the most newsworthy aspect of this story right now concerns Majid Khan, the other man approved for release.

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“A Good Man With A Lot to Offer This World”: Khaled Qassim’s Attorney Urges Periodic Review Board to Approve His Release from Guantánamo

Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), in a photo taken at Guantánamo around 15 years ago, and included in his classified military file released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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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.

Two weeks ago, in an article entitled, The U.S.’s Ongoing “Forever Prisoner” Problem at Guantánamo, I discussed the last five men held at Guantánamo as “forever prisoners,” the only men out of the 37 still held who have not been either charged with a crime (eleven of the 37), or approved for release (the remaining 21).

Most of those approved for release had those recommendations made by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established under President Obama, with 16 of those decisions taking place since President Biden took office. The men in question demonstrated to the board members — comprising representatives of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State, and the offices of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence — that they were contrite, and had plans for a peaceful life if released, with the board members also concluding that they did not pose a significant security threat.

For a variety of reasons, however, the five “forever prisoners” have been unable to persuade the boards to approve their release, generally through a failure to engage with the review process, and/or because of ongoing concerns about the threat they purportedly still pose.

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The US’s Ongoing “Forever Prisoner” Problem at Guantánamo

The five “forever prisoners” still held at Guantánamo without charge or trial: Muhammad Rahim, Abu Zubaydah, Khaled Qassim, Ismael Bakush and Mustafa al-Usaybi (aka Abu Faraj al-Libi).

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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 now over 20 years since, in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration declared that it had the right to hold indefinitely, and without charge or trial, those seized in the “war on terror” that was launched after the attacks.

As a result of the US turning its back on laws and treaties designed to ensure that people can only be imprisoned if they are charged and put on trial, or held until the end of hostilities as prisoners of war, the men held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay have struggled to challenge the basis of their imprisonment.

For a brief period, from 2008 to 2010, the law actually counted at Guantánamo, after the Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, and 32 men were freed because judges ruled that the government had failed to establish — even with an extremely low evidentiary bar — that they had any meaningful connection to either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. However, this brief triumph for the law came to an end when politically motivated appeals court judges passed a number of rulings that made successful habeas petitions unattainable.

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Guantánamo’s Youngest Prisoner, Hassan Bin Attash, Approved for Release; 21 of the 37 Men Still Held Are Now Awaiting Their Freedom

Hassan bin Attash, photographed sometime after his arrival at Guantánamo in 2004, after being held and tortured in Jordan for two years on behalf of the US authorities. Hassan is now 36 or 37 years old, but no up-to-date photo of him exists.

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I’m pleased to report that, after nearly 18 years of imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo, preceded by two years in proxy torture prisons and CIA “black sites,” Guantánamo’s youngest prisoner, Hassan bin Attash, a Yemeni brought up in Saudi Arabia, has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established under President Obama, Just 16 or 17 years old when he was first seized, in a house raid in Pakistan on September 11, 2002, Hassan has, as a result, spent over half his life imprisoned without charge or trial.

Between 2014 and 2016, the PRBs reviewed the cases of 64 men at Guantánamo who were accurately described in the media as “forever prisoners.” 41 of them, including Hassan, had been designated as “too dangerous to release” by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which had reviewed the cases of the 240 men inherited from George W. Bush in 2009, with the task force members conceding, however, that they had insufficient evidence against them to put them on trial.

23 others had been recommended for trials by the task force — until a number of successful appeals in the military commissions (the trial system ill-advisedly invented for Guantánamo) made it clear that war crimes trials were inappropriate for low-level terrorist designations like “providing material support for terrorism,” which had been the rationale behind many of the prosecution recommendations.

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Algerian Suffering from PTSD, and Mistakenly Identified as an Associate of Abu Zubaydah, Is Approved for Release from Guantánamo

A prisoner at Guantánamo (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images). No photo of Saeed Bakhouch has been made public, and, as noted below, a photo that the US military claims is of him is of another unidentified prisoner instead.

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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 April 21, I was alerted to the news that an Algerian prisoner at Guantánamo, Said Bakush (also known as Saeed Bakhouch or Saeed Bakhouche) had been approved for release on April 13 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process initiated by President Obama. The PRB process involves “senior officials from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” who decide “whether continued detention of particular individuals held at Guantánamo remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The news was surprising, as it was the first time that a prisoner had been approved for release by a PRB without directly taking part in the process. This was undoubtedly newsworthy, but his approval for release wasn’t reported in the mainstream media, in part, I suspect, because so little information was available on the PRB website, but also because some kind of detective work is required to establish exactly who Saeed Bakhouch is.

As I reported back in 2016, in an article entitled, The Man They Don’t Know: Saeed Bakhouche, an Algerian, Faces a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo, the US authorities apparently knew so little about Bakhouch that the photo they used on his Detainee Assessment Brief, one of the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011, was of someone else entirely, as his attorney, Candace Gorman, told me at the time.

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Majid Khan’s Sentence Ends, But, Disgracefully, He’s Still Trapped at Guantánamo, Along with 19 Other Men Approved for Release

Majid Khan, photographed as a student in 1999, and in recent years at Guantánamo.

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Over ten years ago, on February 29, 2012, Majid Khan, a Pakistani national held at Guantánamo since September 2006, and previously held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for three and a half years, agreed to a plea deal in his military commission trial at Guantánamo, admitting that, as an Al-Qaeda recruit, he had taken $50,000 from Pakistan to Thailand as funding for the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, whose attack on a hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia in August 2003 killed 12 people.

Khan, who had already been in a CIA “black site” for five months when the attack happened, was thoroughly remorseful about his actions, and agreed to cooperate with the US authorities, providing information that would help in the prosecution of others involved in terrorism, both at Guantánamo and elsewhere. In exchange, it was promised that his sentence would be capped at 19 years from the time of his capture; in other words, that it would be served by March 5, 2022.

At the time, his sentencing was due to take place in four years’ time — in 2016 — but delays in the broken military commission system, which I wrote about here and here, meant that he was not finally sentenced until October last year, when he was finally allowed to describe, in harrowing detail (as I posted here and here), his horrendous treatment at the hands of the CIA, and the authorities in Guantánamo, and also to explain at length how, as a young man distraught at the death of his mother, he was preyed on by Al-Qaeda members, taking advantage of his vulnerability. He also, as has been apparent throughout his imprisonment, once more apologized profusely for his crimes.

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Please Write to the Guantánamo Prisoners, Let Them Know They’ve Not Been Forgotten Under President Biden

Eight of the 39 men still held at Guantánamo. Top row from L to R: Khaled Qassim, Sufyian Barhoumi, Asadullah Haroon Gul, Moath al-Alwi. Bottom row from L to R: Saifullah Paracha, Abu Zubaydah, Tawfiq al-Bihani, Mohammed al-Qahtani. Of these eight, all but Khaled Qassim and Abu Zubaydah have been approved for release.

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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 12 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, generally once or twice a year, although this is the first time I’ve asked people to write to the prisoners since May 2020.

Under President Biden, there has been little progress in releasing prisoners — just one man has been freed since he took office over a year ago — but there has been significant progress in approving prisoners for release. 15 men have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards (a parole-type review process established under President Obama) since Joe Biden became president, bringing to 20 the number of men still held who have been approved for release.

This is over half of the 39 men still held, but approving men for release means nothing unless the men are actually freed, and on that front we seem constantly to be awaiting news that these men have finally been granted their freedom. Moreover, although these men now have some sort of future beyond Guantánamo to imagine — after the last five years, in which just two of their fellow prisoners were released — life at Guantánamo is still extraordinarily isolated.

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Over Half Of Guantánamo’s Prisoners Have Now Been Approved for Release, As Periodic Review Board Approves Release of Ghassan Al-Sharbi

Dawn at Guantánamo in 2013 (no photo exists of Ghassan al-Sharbi).

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In more good news from Guantánamo, Ghassan al-Sharbi, a 47-year old Saudi who has been held at the prison for nearly 20 years, has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established by President Obama. His approval for release means that the US government has now accepted that over half of the men held — 20 of the 39 men still imprisoned — should be freed, with 15 of those decisions taking place since President Biden took office just over a year ago.

It has been a long journey to reach the point where a panel of US officials — from 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 — has approved al-Sharbi for release.

Al-Sharbi was captured on March 28, 2002, with several other men who ended up at Guantánamo (most of whom have already been released), in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan that also secured the capture of Abu Zubaydah, for whom the US torture program was subsequently developed.

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Mentally Ill Torture Victim Mohammed Al-Qahtani Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Mohammed al-Qahtani, photographed before his capture, in 2001, and subsequently 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.

On February 4, another Guantánamo prisoner was approved for release from the prison by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established by President Obama, which led to the release of 36 men in his second term in office. Of the 39 men still held, 19 — very nearly half of those still imprisoned — have now been approved for release, with 14 of those decisions taking place since President Biden took office just over a year ago.

There was surprise in some quarters, because the prisoner in question, Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi, was, in Guantánamo’s early days, considered the 20th intended hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and was subjected to a specific torture program, approved by then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which, as the New York Times reported after the PRB decision was announced, involved him “undergo[ing] two months of continuous, brutal interrogation by the US military inside a wooden hut at Camp X-Ray in late 2002 and early 2003.”

The details of his torture shocked the world when a day-by-day interrogation log was leaked to Time magazine in 2006. As the Times described it, the log revealed how “military interrogators placed Mr. Qahtani in solitary confinement, stripped him naked, forcibly shaved him, and subjected him to prolonged sleep deprivation, dehydration, exposure to cold, and various psychological and sexual humiliations like making him bark like a dog, dance with a man and wear women’s underwear on his head.” As the Times added, “They extracted a confession, which he later recanted,” which included allegations that he had made against 30 other prisoners, falsely claiming that they were bodyguards of Osama bin Laden.

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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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