Five More Prisoners Approved for Release from Guantánamo: 18 of the 39 Remaining Men Are Now Waiting to Be Freed

The five “forever prisoners” approved for release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Boards in November and December 2021. From L to R: Suhayl al-Sharabi, Guled Hassan Duran, Moath al-Alwi, Omar al-Rammah and Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu.

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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 run-up to the shameful 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, I had the sneaking suspicion that President Biden would seek to divert attention from his general inaction on Guantánamo in his first year in office by announcing that more of the facility’s “forever prisoners” had been approved for release.

In his first year in office, President Biden released just one prisoner, even though he inherited six men approved for release from the previous administrations, but crucially, via the Periodic Review Boards, the review process established by President Obama, he has also now approved an additional 13 men for release — one-third of the remaining 39 prisoners — bringing to 18 the total number of men still held who the US government has conceded that it no longer wants to hold.

This is definitely progress — although it means nothing until the men in question are actually released — but it does show a willingness to move towards the prison’s closure, and also indicates that the administration has taken on board the criticism of numerous former officials, and, in particular, 24 Senators and 75 members of the House of Representatives, who wrote to President Biden last year to point out how unacceptable it is that the government continues to hold men indefinitely without charge or trial.

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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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Shamima Begum: Appeals Court Tells UK Government It Was Unlawful to Strip Citizenship of ISIS Child Bride

British citizen Shamima Begum, photographed in the Al Hawl camp in Syria in 2019, where captured ISIS brides and children were being held. She is holding her week-old son, who subsequently died.

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It’s a sign of the extent to which commonly accepted standards of justice and decency have fallen that I even have to write the headline for this article, but the sad truth is that, in the UK, government officials, at the highest level, believe that it is entirely appropriate to strip a British citizen of her citizenship, making her stateless, if, as a 15-year old, she took the decision to travel to Syria to become a “jihadi bride.”

On one level, this is completely wrong because all countries that claim to respect the rule of law, Britain included, have signed up to treaties recognising that juveniles (those under 18) should not be held responsible for their actions. In my main line of work over the last 14 years — writing about the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and campaigning to get it closed — one of the most shocking aspects of that whole sordid story is the way that the US government ignored its obligations to treat juveniles as distinct from adults, and, in fact, denied that such distinctions even existed.

“These are not children”, foreign secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed when the story first broke that children were being held at Guantánamo. At least 23 of the prisoners were juveniles — under 18 — when they were first seized, including the most famous Guantánamo child of them all, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was 15 when he was seized after a firefight with US soldiers, and whose rights were not only denied by the US, but also by his own government in Canada, which eventually had to be told by Canada’s Supreme Court that Canadian agents had deprived him of his rights when they visited him at Guantánamo to interrogate him.

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International Criminal Court Authorizes Investigation into War Crimes in Afghanistan, Including US Torture Program

The logo of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and an image of a secret prison.

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Good news from The Hague, as the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has approved an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since May 2003 “by US armed forces and members of the CIA, the Taliban and affiliated armed groups, and Afghan government forces,” as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in a press release.

The investigation, as CCR also explained, will include “crimes against humanity and war crimes … committed as part of the US torture program,” not only in Afghanistan but also in “the territory of other States Parties to the Rome Statute implicated in the US torture program”; in other words, other sites in the CIA’s global network of “black site” torture prisons, which, notoriously, included facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. As CCR explained, “Although the United States is not a party to the ICC Statute, the Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed by US actors on the territory of a State Party to the ICC,” and this aspect of the investigation will look at crimes committed since July 1, 2002.

AS CCR also explained, “The investigation marks the first time senior US officials may face criminal liability for their involvement in the torture program.”

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Trump’s Personal Prisoners at Guantánamo: The Five Men Cleared for Release But Still Held

Guantánamo prisoners Abdul Latif Nasir, Sufyian Barhoumi and Tawfiq al-Bihani, three of the five men still held under Donald Trump who were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

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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.

The nearly three-year long presidency of Donald Trump is so strewn with scandals and cruel policies that some lingering injustices are being forgotten. A case in point is the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which is rarely reported in the mainstream media, with the valiant exception of Carol Rosenberg at the New York Times, who continues to visit the prison regularly, often being the only reporter in the whole of the US to subject the working of the facility to outside scrutiny.

And yet the longer Guantánamo remains open, the more cruel and unacceptable is its fundamentally unjust premise: that men seized nearly two decades ago can be held indefinitely without charge or trial. This was grotesque under George W. Bush, who responded by releasing nearly two-thirds of the 779 men held since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, and it remained so under Barack Obama, who, shamefully, promised to close it but never did, although he did release nearly 200 more men, via two review processes that he established.

However, a new low point has been reached under Donald Trump, who has no interest in releasing any prisoners under any circumstances, and, with one exception, has been true to his word. For the 40 men still held, the prison has become a tomb.

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Reprieve and MPs Dan Jarvis and David Davis Challenge Government’s Refusal to Launch Official Inquiry Into British Complicity in Torture

Protestor – and US veteran – Bob Meddaugh with a powerful universal message at a protest vigil in Des Moines, Iowa, in December 2010 (Photo: Justin Norman).

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Last week, largely lost in the Brexit fog that engulfs almost all other political activity in the UK these days, the NGO Reprieve, and two principled MPs — Labour’s Dan Jarvis and the Conservative David Davis — launched a legal challenge against the government in connection with a recent ministerial decision to “abandon a promise to hold a judge-led inquiry into torture and rendition involving British intelligence agencies after 9/11,” as the Guardian described it.

Jarvis, Davis and Reprieve have submitted an application for a judicial review in the High Court as the latest step in a decade-long struggle to secure transparency about the UK’s involvement in the Bush administration’s CIA-led program of rendition and torture.

Back in July 2010, shortly after taking office in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, David Cameron — pushed by the foreign secretary William Hague — announced a judge-led inquiry, as I reported here, telling the House of Commons that he had asked Sir Peter Gibson, a retired judge, to “look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11,” and noting that, although there was no evidence that any British officer was “directly engaged in torture,” there were “questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done.”

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Abandoned in Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release Three Years Ago, But Still Held

Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, cleared for release from the prison over three years ago, but still held, and Camp 6, where he remains imprisoned with 23 other low-level prisoners.

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.

Over 17 and a half years since the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, it is, sadly, rare for the mainstream US media — with the bold exception of Carol Rosenberg at the New York Times — to spend any time covering it, even though its continued existence remains a source of profound shame for anyone who cares about US claims that it is a nation founded on the rule of law.

Given the general lack of interest, it was encouraging that, a few weeks ago, ABC News reported on the unforgivable plight of Abdul Latif Nasser, a 54-year old Moroccan prisoner, to mark the third anniversary of his approval for release from the prison. Nasser is one of five of the remaining 40 prisoners who were approved for release by high-level US government review processes under President Obama, but who are still held.

In Nasser’s case, as I reported for Al-Jazeera in June 2017, this was because, although he was approved for release in June 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process that approved 38 prisoners for release from 2013 to 2016, the necessary paperwork from the Moroccan government didn’t reach the Obama administration until 22 days before Obama left office, and legislation passed by Republicans stipulated that Congress had to be informed 30 days before a prisoner was to be released, meaning that, for Nasser, as I described it, “the difference between freedom and continued incarceration was just eight days.”

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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 »

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 »

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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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