Rare Words From Guantánamo, From “Forever Prisoner” Ghassan Al-Sharbi

The perimeter fence at Guantánamo, photographed on March 6, 2013 (Photo: Bob Strong/Reuters).

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When the prison at Guantánamo Bay was set up by the Bush administration, over 17 long years ago, the intention was to hide the men held from any kind of outside scrutiny, an intention reflected within the prison, where the prisoners were dehumanized, identified not by name but by what were known as Internment Serial Numbers (ISNs). The ISN system persists to this day, with the 40 men still held after first George W. Bush, and then Barack Obama, shrank the prison’s population to just 5% of the total number of men held since it first opened.

In addition, the effort to hold the men in a permanent state of dehumanization — to prevent any serious form of outside scrutiny — also persists. It is only because the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in 2004 that the men were finally allowed to have lawyers visit them, breaking through the shroud of total secrecy that had previously enveloped the prison, and that had allowed horrendous torture and abuse to take place in its first few years of operations.

Of the 40 men still held, most are unknown to the general public. The most prominent are the seven men facing seemingly interminable pre-trial hearings in the broken military commission system, but few people know who most of the others are — five men approved for release under Barack Obama, but still held, and 26 others, accurately described as “forever prisoners” by the mainstream media, whose ongoing imprisonment was recommended by Obama administration officials who reviewed all the prisoners’ cases after Obama took office, and decided that they were too dangerous to release, while conceding that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

Read the rest of this entry »

Saifullah and Uzair Paracha: Victims of US Vengeance in the “War on Terror”?

Saifullah and Uzair Paracha. Saifulllah was photographed a few years ago in Guantanamo; the photo of Uzair is from before his capture in 2003.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.

In the “war on terror” established by the US in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the most distressing developments has been the death of the presumption of innocence and of any form of due process.

In response to the attacks, the Bush administration tore up and discarded all the laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, and as a result everyone they rounded up as a terrorist (or a terrorist sympathizer or facilitator) was regarded as guilty — without the need for any proof.

The terrible legacy of this time is still with us. Although the processing prisons in Afghanistan (Bagram, for example) and the CIA “black sites” have closed, 40 men are still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, the defining icon of the US’s post-9/11 lawlessness.

Of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since it opened over 17 years ago, on January 11, 2002, 729 men have been released, but only 39 of those 729 have been released through any legal process — 33 through the US courts, as a result of them having their habeas corpus petitions granted by judges in the District Court in Washington, D.C., and six others through the military commission trial process at Guantánamo itself (one after a trial, and five through plea deals). Read the rest of this entry »

On the 17th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo, Please Write to the 40 Men Still Held, Donald Trump’s “Forever Prisoners”

Eight of the prisoners still held at Guantanamo, all of whom are eligible for the Periodic Review Boards that have been rendered toothless under Donald Trump. Top row, from L to R: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Haroon Gul and Ismael Ali Bakush. Bottom row, L to R: Abd al-Salam al-Hilah, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Saifullah Paracha and Guled Hassan Duran.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.




 

It’s a year since I last encouraged you to write to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, to mark their first year of imprisonment under Donald Trump, and I’m asking you to do so again, to let them know that they have not been entirely forgotten.

I’ve been encouraging opponents of Guantánamo to write to the prisoners on a regular basis since June 2010, when I was first prompted to do so by two Muslim activist friends in the UK, who had initiated a project to get people to write to the prisoners still held at that time — 186 in total.

I repeated the letter-writing project in June 2011, and then did so again every six months or so until July 2015, with two further calls in 2016, the last being in the dying weeks of the Obama presidency. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards: The Escape Route Shut Down by Donald Trump

Four of the Guantanamo prisoners currently going through the Periodic Review Board process. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abd al-Salam al-Hilah.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.




 

Anyone paying close attention to the prison at Guantánamo Bay will know that its continued existence, nearly 17 years after it first opened, is largely down to the success of some wildly inaccurate claims that were made about it when its malevolent business first began — claims that it held “the worst of the worst” terrorists, who were all captured on the battlefield.

In fact, as my research, and that of other researchers has shown, very few of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 can realistically be described as having had any meaningful involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taliban; perhaps just 3 percent, and certainly less than 5 percent. No one was captured on the battlefield, and the majority were either foot soldiers for the Taliban in an inter-Muslim civil war that predated 9/11, or civilians swept up in ill-advised dragnets. Many, if not most of those who ended up at Guantánamo were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies for bounty payments, which averaged $5,000 a head, a huge amount of money in that part of the world.

Just 40 men are still held at Guantánamo, after George W. Bush released 532 men, and Barack Obama released 196. Nine men died, one was transferred to the US, to face a trial in which he was successfully prosecuted, and one more was reluctantly released by Donald Trump, or, rather, was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment, as part of a plea deal negotiated in his military commission trial proceedings in 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

“Saifullah Paracha: The Kind Father, Brother, and Friend for All at Guantánamo” by Mansoor Adayfi

Saifullah Paracha, photographed at Guantanamo several years ago (wearing white to show his status as a well-behaved prisoner) and Mansoor Adayfi photographed in Serbia when he was allowed to use the central library to study.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.




 

The following article was published on 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.

Those who take an interest in Guantánamo will have come across the story of Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni and a former prisoner, who was resettled in Serbia in July 2016, and has become a talented writer in English. He has had articles published in the New York Times, and he wrote an essay about the prisoners’ relationship with the sea that was featured in the catalog for “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork at the John Jay College of Justice in New York that ran from last October until January this year.

Remarkably, Mansoor Adayfi didn’t even speak English when he arrived at Guantánamo, but he learned it when, after years of anger at the injustice of his imprisonment at the injustice of his imprisonment, which brought him into regular conflict with the authorities, one of his lawyers, Andy Hart, encouraged him to have a more positive outlook. Mansoor’s transformation has been inspiring, but it was only recently that I became aware that another mentor for him was Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, and Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, who had provided support not only to Mansoor and to numerous other prisoners, but even to prison staff and guards.

In a Facebook post, Mansoor wrote that Saifullah “was a father, brother, friend, and teacher to us all,” and offered to trade places with him. I thought this was such a poignant offer that I wrote to him to ask if he would be interested in writing more about Saifullah for “Close Guantánamo” — and was delighted when he said yes. With bitter irony, while Mansoor has been released from Guantánamo, Saifullah Paracha, who has been such a positive presence for so many prisoners at Guantánamo, is still held, because of the U.S.’s obsession with his alleged involvement with al-Qaeda, which he continues to deny. Just last week, he had a Periodic Review Board hearing, a parole-type process established under Barack Obama, at which his attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis of Reprieve, spoke eloquently about how he doesn’t pose a threat to the U.S., but it remains to be seen if the authorities are capable of understanding. Read the rest of this entry »

Fears for Guantánamo Prisoner Resettled in Serbia, Where the Government Wants to Get Rid of Him

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi in a screenshot from a video made by Canada's CBC Radio last month. 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.




 

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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have long taken an interest not just in getting the prison closed, and telling the stories of the men still held, to dispel the enduring myth that they are “the worst of the worst,”, but also in following up on prisoners after their release, and to that end we are delighted that Jessica Schulberg of the Huffington Post has recently highlighted the story of Mansoor Adayfi.

A Yemeni, Adayfi (identified in Guantánamo as Abdul Rahman Ahmed or Mansoor al-Zahari) was resettled in Serbia in July 2016, nine months after he was approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process introduced by Barack Obama in his last three years in office, which led to 36 prisoners being approved for release, men who had previously been categorized — often with extraordinarily undue caution — as being too dangerous to release.

Adayfi’s story is fascinating. An insignificant prisoner on capture — with the US authorities eventually conceding that he “probably was a low-level fighter who was aligned with al-Qa’ida, although it is unclear whether he actually joined that group” — he only ended up being regarded as threat to the US because of his behavior in Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Abdul Latif Nasser’s Story: Imagine Being Told You Were Leaving Guantánamo, But Then Donald Trump Became President

A recent photo of Guantanamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, as taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.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.




 

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.

“Close Guantánamo” has recently been on vacation, a short break punctured only by the latest episode in our ongoing photo campaign — 6,050 days of the prison’s existence, on August 4, and photos marking this latest bleak anniversary, featuring opponents of the prison’s continued existence.

Donald Trump doesn’t care, of course. While the president who set up Guantánamo (George W. Bush) eventually conceded it had been a mistake, and while his successor (Barack Obama) said he would close it but didn’t, Trump is an enthusiast for keeping it open, seems to care nothing about the law, would reintroduce torture and send new prisoners to Guantánamo if he could, and clearly has no intention of releasing anyone from the prison at all, even though five of the 40 men still held were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

Three of the five had their release approved by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that Obama set up shortly after first taking office in 2009 to advise him on what to do with the 240 men he had inherited from George W. Bush (he was recommended to release 156 men, to try 36 and to continue to hold 48 without charge or trial), and two had their release approved by the Periodic Review Boards that subsequently reviewed the cases of 64 prisoners from the latter two categories from 2013 to 2016 on a parole-type basis. Read the rest of this entry »

“The World Has Forgotten Me” Says Ahmed Rabbani, 95-Pound Hunger Striker in Guantánamo

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at Reprieve, and taken before his weight dropped to under 100 pounds as a hunger striker.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.




 

Over 16 and a half years since the ill-conceived prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, and over two and a half years into the presidency of Donald Trump, the terrible injustice of Guantánamo has, sadly, largely slipped off the radar.

The reasons are many — and none reflect well on the US, its institutions and its people. The American people have never cared sufficiently about what is being done in their name at Guantánamo, where the fundamental right not to be imprisoned without due process has been done away with since the prison opened, a product of the country’s all-consuming vengeance after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Few people, it seems, either know or care that very few people accused of terrorism have actually been held at Guantánamo, and that most of those held were foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan, or civilians swept up in incompetent dragnets, and that the majority — whether soldiers or civilians — were not “captured on the battlefield,” but were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies.

When it comes to America’s institutions, everyone has failed to live up to their responsibilities — President Obama, for example, who took eight years to fail to close the prison, despite promising to do so on his second day in office; Congress, where lawmakers generally take little interest in anything other than appeasing big business; and the courts, who have failed to fundamentally challenge the lawlessness of Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

No Escape from Guantánamo: An Update on the Periodic Review Boards

Four Guantanamo prisoners whose cases are still nominally being reviewed by Periodic Review Boards. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, awaiting a decision in his review after 16 months, and Khalid Qasim, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Uthman Mohammed Uthman, who all had their ongoing imprisonment upheld after reviews this year.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.




 

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.

Regular Guantánamo-watchers will know how wretched it is that Donald Trump is in charge of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, because he appears to have no ability or willingness to understand that it is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, where most of the 40 men still held are imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial, in defiance of all agreed laws and treaties, and a handful of others are facing trials in a broken trial system, the military commissions, that is not fit for purpose.

Under George W. Bush, a total of 532 prisoners were released from Guantánamo, and Barack Obama released another 196. Trump, to date, has released just one man, a Saudi repatriated for ongoing imprisonment, who was only released because of a plea deal he had agreed to in his military commission proceedings in 2014, and has shown no interest in releasing anyone else, even though five of the 40 men still held were approved for release by high-level review processes under President Obama. With only nine men facing trials, that also leaves 26 other men in that unjustifiable limbo of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial.

The only mechanism that exists that theoretically could lead to the release of any of these men is the Periodic Review Board system, the second review process set up by President Obama. The first, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, assessed in 2009 whether prisoners should be freed or tried or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial. 156 were recommended for release, and 36 for prosecution, and 48 for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were regarded as too dangerous to release, but insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers for Guantánamo Torture Victim Mohammed Al-Qahtani Urge Court to Enable Mental Health Assessment and Possible Repatriation to Saudi Arabia

Mohammed al-Qahtani, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. 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.





 

Last Thursday, lawyers for Mohammed al-Qahtani, the only prisoner at Guantánamo whose torture was admitted by a senior official in the George W. Bush administration, urged Judge Rosemary Collyer of the District Court in Washington, D.C. to order the government “to ask for his current condition to be formally examined by a mixed medical commission, a group of neutral doctors intended to evaluate prisoners of war for repatriation,” as Murtaza Hussain reported for the Intercept. He added that the commission “could potentially order the government to release him from custody and return him home to Saudi Arabia, based on their evaluation of his mental and physical state.”

A horrendous torture program, approved by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was developed for al-Qahtani after it was discovered that he was apparently intended to have been the 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks. As Hussain stated, court documents from his case state that he was subject to “solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, extreme temperature and noise exposure, stress positions, forced nudity, body cavity searches, sexual assault and humiliation, beatings, strangling, threats of rendition, and water-boarding.” On two occasions he was hospitalized with a dangerously low heart rate. The log of that torture is here, and as Hussain also explained, “The torture that Qahtani experienced at Guantánamo also exacerbated serious pre-existing mental illnesses that he suffered as a youth in Saudi Arabia — conditions so severe that he was committed to a mental health facility there in 2000, at the age of 21.”

The high-level acknowledgement of al-Qahtani’s torture, mentioned above, came just before George W. Bush left office, when Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commission trial system at Guantánamo, told Bob Woodward, “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture.” She was explaining why she had refused to refer his case for prosecution. 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.
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