Ahmed Al-Darbi, Admitted Terrorist at Guantánamo, Receives 13-Year Sentence Following 2014 Plea Deal

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.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 Friday, the US authorities secured a rare success at Guantánamo, when a panel of US military officers gave a 13-year sentence to Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner, for what the New York Times described as “his admitted role in a 2002 attack by Al Qaeda on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.”

Al-Darbi had pleaded guilty in his military commission trial in February 2014, but his sentencing had not taken place until now because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook this summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.

Under the terms of the plea deal, as Charlie Savage described it in the New York Times, “the commission could have imposed a sentence of 13 to 15 years.” However, the prosecutors joined with al-Darbi’s defense team to ask for “the minimum available term in light of his extensive assistance to the government.” As Savage put it, al-Darbi “has renounced Islamist ideology and lived apart from the general detainee population for years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington and Ramzi Kassem Discuss Trump, Obama, Guantánamo and Torture at Revolution Books in Harlem

Andy Worthington and Ramzi Kassem listening to a question from the audience at a discussion about Guantanamo at Revolution Books on January 13, 2017.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

On Sunday I got back from my US tour to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, which was on January 11, and I’m posting the video below of a powerful event I took part in during my visit — a panel discussion, on “Trump, Torture and Guantánamo” (and Barack Obama’s legacy) at Revolution Books in Harlem.

I was delighted to take part in the event with another speaker I had invited, Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at City University of New York (CUNY), with whom I have appeared at events many times before (see here, for example), and who, back in 2012, provided me exclusively with unclassified notes of meetings with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, which I published on my website and on the website of the Close Guantánamo campaign that I co-founded with the attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012, marking the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

Because of the uncertainties surrounding the transition from Barack Obama’s presidency to that of Donald Trump’s, I was involved in fewer events than usual on this visit — my seventh in a row to coincide with the anniversary of Guantánamo’s opening, all of which have been arranged by Debra Sweet of the World Can’t Wait — although everything I took part in was extremely worthwhile. I have previously posted the video of my speech outside the Supreme Court on Jan. 11, and the video of the panel discussion I initiated on Jan. 11 at New America, which also featured Tom Wilner, former Congressman Jim Moran, and Rosa Brooks and Peter Bergen of New America, and I’m pleased to be posting the video below, via Vimeo: Read the rest of this entry »

For Review Board, Revelations That Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani Was Profoundly Mentally Ill Before Capture

Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, in a photo taken before his capture in 2001.I wrote the following article — as “Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani Was Profoundly Mentally Ill Before His Capture” — 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 week, a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo raised a number of uncomfortable questions for the US authorities: what do you do with a prisoner allegedly involved with Al-Qaeda, but who you have tortured? And what do you do if it then transpires that, before you captured and tortured this man, he already had a history of severe mental health problems?

The prisoner in question is Mohammed al-Qahtani, the 47th prisoner to face a PRB, since they were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials. Tortured for 50 days straight at the end of 2002, he was “subjected to constant interrogations marked by extreme sleep deprivation, low temperatures, stress positions and forced nudity as well as being threatened with a military dog,” and “had to be hospitalized twice with a dangerously low heart rate,” as the Washington Post described it last week.

It was also in the Washington Post, in January 2009, that, for the first, and, to date, only time, a senior Pentagon official, Susan Crawford, the convenor of Guantánamo’s military commissions, admitted that a prisoner in US custody had been tortured. “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture,” Crawford said, adding that that was why she didn’t refer his case for prosecution, even though he had been charged in February 2008 with five other men who are still facing prosecution for the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Two Libyans Freed from Guantánamo and Given New Homes in Senegal?

Salem Gherebi, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On April 3, two Libyans — former opponents of Colonel Gaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011 — were freed from Guantánamo and resettled in Senegal, whose Ministry of Foreign Relations issued a statement pointing out that the two men were granted “asylum … in accordance with the relevant conventions of international humanitarian law, also in the tradition of Senegalese hospitality and Islamic solidarity with two African brothers who have expressed interest in resettlement in Senegal after their release.”

The two men — Omar Mohamed Khalifh, 44 (ISN 695), and Salem Gherebi, 55 (ISN 189) — are the first former prisoners to be resettled in the west African country, and with their release 89 men remain in Guantánamo, of whom 35 have been approved for release — 23 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, and 12 other approved for release since January 2014 by another high-level review process, the Periodic Review Boards.

Khalifh, also identified as Omar Khalif, went before a Periodic Review Board in June 2015 and was approved for release in September, bringing freedom within sight for an amputee with numerous other health problems who, as the Libyan-born British resident Omar Deghayes (released from Guantánamo in December 2007) told me in 2010, was not who the Americans thought he was: Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Complain About Slow Progress of Periodic Review Boards

Guantanamo prisoner Ravil Mingazov, who us one of 36 men eligible for Periodic Review Boards, but who have not yet been given a date when their reviews will take place. This photo is of Ravil with his family, in a photo taken before his capture.Yesterday I published an article about the most recent Periodic Review Board to take place at Guantánamo, and I was reminded of how I’ve overlooked a couple of interesting articles about the PRBs published in the Guardian over the last six weeks.

When it comes to President Obama’s intention to close Guantánamo before he leaves office next January, the most crucial focus for his administration needs to be the Periodic Review Boards, featuring representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, and the offices of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff, as I have been highlighting through the recently launched Countdown to Close Guantánamo. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release, and ten are undergoing trials (or have already been through the trial process), leaving 47 others in a disturbing limbo.

Half these men were, alarmingly, described as “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Latest Words from Guantánamo; On a Hunger Strike, Fearful That He Won’t See His Family Again

A birthday card is delivered to 10 Downing Street for Shaker Aamer's birthday on December 21, 2014, by MPs and other supporters. From L to R: Andy Worthington, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Peter Tatchell, Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP and John Leech MP (Photo: Stefano Massimo). The birthday card is by Dot Young, and the message, of course, was ironic, and meant to shame both the British and American governments.Yesterday, just ten days after the announcement that Shaker Aamer is finally to be freed from Guantánamo and returned to his family, was quite a disturbing day for those of us who care about Shaker and his health, as the Mail on Sunday ran a seven-page feature on Shaker that centered on his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith’s report of his latest words from Guantánamo, via a recent phone call.

Shaker stated, as the Mail on Sunday put it, that “he is on a hunger strike in protest at an assault by guards, who, he says, forced him to give blood samples,” and that he is “still being subjected to brutal physical abuse” by the authorities, and he also expressed his fears that he will not make it out of Guantánamo alive. As he said in his own words: “I know there are people who do not want me ever to see the sun again. It means nothing that they have signed papers, as anything can happen before I get out. So if I die, it will be the full responsibility of the Americans.”

This is rather bleak, and it made those of us who worry about Shaker’s health very unsettled. In my conversations with people yesterday, we also reflected on how the news must have been very disturbing for Shaker’s family. However, it is not all darkness. In another key passage, not picked up by the headline writers, Shaker said, powerfully, in words that illuminate his passion for justice and the tenacity that so many of us have admired over the years, “I do not want to be a hero. I am less than a lot of people who suffered in this place. But all this time I stood for certain principles: for human rights, freedom of speech, and democracy. I cannot give up.” Read the rest of this entry »

97-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker Appears Before Periodic Review Board As Saudi is Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Muhammad al-Shumrani, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

After months of inaction on Guantánamo, there has, in recent weeks, been a flurry of activity, with two prisoners released (one to Morocco and one to Saudi Arabia), and with the approval of two prisoners for release by Periodic Review Boards (Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan, and Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison, who was recommended for ongoing imprisonment by a PRB last year, but was given a second opportunity in July to persuade the board that he is no threat to the United States, which was successful).

On Friday, it was also revealed that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (who I have written about extensively for Close Guantánamo, and for whom I co-founded a high-profile campaign in the UK, We Stand With Shaker), will be freed within the next month, and it is expected that a Mauritanian, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, long approved for release like Shaker, will also be freed soon, along with two the prisoners whose cases are with defense secretary Ashton Carter, but who have not been publicly identified.

Adding to all this news, last week — largely unnoticed in the media — another prisoner was approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, the review process established two years ago to review the cases of all the men who were not previously approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, and who are not facing trials. Read the rest of this entry »

“The More We Get Close to What We Want, The Farther It Goes”: Shaker Aamer’s Endlessly Thwarted Hope of Being Released from Guantánamo

Jeremy Corbyn MP supporting We Stand With Shaker in October 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).On Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn, a prominent supporter in Parliament of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, was elected, by a landslide, as the leader of the Labour Party, something that was unimaginable just three months ago. Jeremy is a member of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and in May he visited Washington D.C. with three of his Parliamentary colleagues, to meet with Senators and representatives of the Obama administration, to try and secure Shaker’s release.

The Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group was established last November by John McDonnell MP, Jeremy’s close friend and colleague on the left of the Party, who, yesterday, was appointed by Jeremy as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Shaker now has two prominent supporters in previously unexpected high-profile positions, and I hope this fact is not lost on the Obama administration, which continues to hold Shaker needlessly. Cleared for release in 2007 (under George W. Bush) and again in 2009 under President Obama, he could be released in a month’s time if the will existed to free him, 30 days being the amount of time that lawmakers in Congress have required the defense secretary to give them before freeing any prisoner.

Other supporters of Shaker in the shadow cabinet are Diane Abbott, the shadow secretary of state for international development, and Ian Murray, the shadow secretary of state for Scotland, and while we wait to see how the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn will raise Shaker’s case (which I’m sure will happen soon), I’m cross-posting below an article about Shaker that was published in the Mail on Sunday, written by Ramzi Kassem, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law, who I have known for many years — and have also spoken with on occasion. Read the rest of this entry »

Shrapnel-Damaged Libyan Amputee Seeks Release from Guantánamo via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Omar Mohammed Khalifh in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On June 24, Omar Mohammed Khalifh (ISN 695, identified by the US authorities as Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker or Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr), a Libyan prisoner at Guantánamo who is 42 or 43 years old, took part in a Periodic Review Board, a process that involved him talking by video-link, accompanied by his civilian lawyer and two US military personal designated as “personal representatives,” who also spoke on his behalf, to 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, in a secure facility near Washington D.C.

Khalifh is one of 39 prisoners still held who were designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009 to review the cases of all the prisoners held at that time and to recommend whether they should be freed or prosecuted, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial, because they were regarded as too dangerous to release, but it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

In a world that respects the rule of law, this third option is a disgrace, as it gives weight to information that is too flimsy to be regarded as evidence and should therefore be discredited — often because it was derived through the use of torture or other abuse. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Speaks About Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker in New York, Plus Lawyers Ramzi Kassem and Omar Farah

Andy Worthington speaking at a Guantanamo event in Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York on January 8, 2015 (Photo: Cat Watters).I’m still catching up with some of the media from my recent US tour, and delighted that, just a few days ago, a film-maker called Edward Briody posted videos from the event I took part in in New York on January 8. Entitled, “Close the US Torture Camp at Guantánamo NOW: Stand with Shaker Aamer, Fahd Ghazy & all the Prisoners Unjustly Held,” the event was introduced by Debra Sweet, the national director of the campaigning group World Can’t Wait (who organized my tour), and, as well as me, featured two lawyers for Guantánamo prisoners — Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at City University of New York, where where he directs the Immigrant & Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, and Omar Farah of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

It was a great event, at Rutgers Presbyterian Church on West 73rd Street. Around 80 people braved the extremely inclement weather to come and listen to us talk — me speaking about We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I launched with activist Joanne MacInnes in November, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and in particular to put pressure on David Cameron to secure Shaker’s return as swiftly as possible.

I also spoke about Guantánamo in general, just three days before the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison, making particular reference to the dubious information, masquerading as evidence, that, in 2009, President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force used to recommend that 48 of the remaining prisoners should continue to be held without charge or trial because they were “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force conceded that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial. 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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