Pentagon Blocks Prisoner Releases from Guantánamo – Including 74-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).As the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba begins its 15th year of operations, there has been a flurry of mainstream media interest, in part because 2016 is President Obama’s last year in office, and yet, when he was first inaugurated in January 2009, he promised to close Guantánamo within a year, an unfulfilled promise that is bound to tarnish his legacy unless he can make good on that promise in his last twelve months in office.

A major report was recently published by Reuters, which focused in particular on the ways in which the Pentagon has been obstructing the release of prisoners, as was clear from the title of the article by Charles Levinson and David Rohde: “Pentagon thwarts Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo.”

Blocking the release of 74-pound hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah

The article began with a damning revelation about Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for seven years, and whose weight has dropped, alarmingly, to just 74 pounds (from 148 pounds on his arrival at the prison in 2002), and who is at risk of death. Ba Odah has been unsuccessful in his recent efforts to persuade a judge to order his release, but he is eligible for release anyway. Back in 2009, when President Obama established the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess all the prisoners’ cases, he was one of 30 Yemenis approved for release but placed in “conditional detention,” a category invented by the task force, which recommended that those placed in this category should only be freed when it was assessed — by whom, it was not explained — that the security situation in Yemen had improved. Read the rest of this entry »

Tariq Ba Odah, Hunger Strikes, and Why the Obama Administration Must Stop Challenging Guantánamo Prisoners in Court

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).In June, I wrote an article, “Skeletal, 75-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Tariq Ba Odah Seeks Release; Medical Experts Fear For His Life,” about the desperate plight of Tariq Ba Odah, a Guantánamo prisoner who has been on a hunger strike since 2007 and is at risk of death. His weight has dropped to just 74.5 pounds, and yet the government does not even claim that it wants to continue holding him. Over five and a half years ago, in January 2010, the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009 to review the cases of all the prisoners still held at that time, concluded that he should no longer be held.

The task force approved 156 men for release, although Tariq was one of 30 placed in a category invented by the task force — “conditional detention,” made dependent on a perception that the security situation in Yemen had improved or “an appropriate rehabilitation program or third- country resettlement option becomes available,” as his lawyers described it.

Collectively, the whole of the US establishment has — with one exception — refused to repatriate any Yemenis approved for release since January 2010 (after a foiled terror plot was revealed to have been hatched in Yemen), although, since last November, the administration has been finding third countries willing to offer new homes to Yemenis approve for transfer — in part became of persistent pressure from campaigning groups. 18 Yemenis have so far been found homes in third countries — in Georgia, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Estonia and Oman — so all that now ought to prevent Tariq Ba Odah’s release is if the US government proves unable to find a third country prepared to offer him a new home. Read the rest of this entry »

Four Insignificant Afghan Prisoners Released from Guantánamo

Shawali Khan, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.More good news regarding Guantánamo, as four Afghans have been released, and returned to Afghanistan in what US officials, who spoke to the New York Times, “are citing as a sign of their confidence in new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.”

The Times added, “Obama administration officials said they worked quickly to fulfil the request from Ghani, in office just three months, to return the four — long cleared for release — as a kind of reconciliation and mark of improved US-Afghan relations.”

The Times also noted that there is “no requirement that the Afghan government further detain the men” — Shawali Khan, 51 (ISN 899), Abdul Ghani, 42 (ISN 934), Khi Ali Gul, 51 (ISN 928) and Mohammed Zahir, 61 (ISN 1103) — adding that Afghanistan’s government-appointed High Peace Council also “requested the repatriation of the eight Afghans who are among the 132 detainees remaining at Guantánamo,” 63 of whom have been cleared for release. Read the rest of this entry »

US in Talks to Return the 17 Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

Earlier this year, there was much discussion in the US media about the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo to Qatar, where they would be held under a form of house arrest.

Those plans came to nothing, but last week the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration was “considering a new gambit to restart peace talks with the Taliban,” which would involve some — or all — of the 17 remaining Afghan prisoners still held in Guantánamo being transferred to Afghanistan, to be held in the Parwan Detention Facility near Bagram, the huge prison established to replace the original prison at Bagram, where several prisoners were killed in the early years of the “war on terror.”

As part of the Obama administration’s 2014 deadline for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, the Parwan Detention Facility is scheduled to be transferred to Afghan control in September this year, and the fate of the remaining Afghans in Guantánamo is clearly part of the negotiations for all parties involved — the Taliban and the Karzai government, as well as the US. Read the rest of this entry »

The “Taliban Five” and the Forgotten Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

In the last three months, much discussion has focused on the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo. Almost entirely forgotten are 12 other Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo, who are mostly so insignificant that they have no one to lobby for them, and are being rather disgracefully overlooked.

The first information about discussions regarding the release of prisoners emerged in a Reuters article on December 19 last year, which explained how secret negotiations between the US government and the Taliban had begun ten months earlier. As part of “the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy,” Reuters explained, the US was “considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.”

The day after, at a UN Security Council debate on Afghanistan, the Afghan deputy foreign minister Jawed Ludin “stressed the government’s determination to pursue reconciliation efforts despite Taliban attacks and assassinations,” as AFP described it. “We believe the process may benefit from the establishment of an office, within or outside Afghanistan, whereby formal talks between relevant Afghan authorities and representatives of armed opposition, including the Taliban, could be facilitated,” Ludin told the council, and AFP noted that Afghan authorities had “put forward Saudi Arabia or Turkey as the best places to set up a Taliban liaison office abroad to enable peace talks to end the devastating 10-year insurgency.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Case of Shawali Khan, an Afghan in Guantánamo, Sold to US Forces 10 Years Ago

As published on the “Close Guantánamo” website. Please join us — just an email address required.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have been watching with interest the ongoing negotiations regarding five of the 17 remaining Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo. In December, it was revealed that, for the previous ten months, the US government and the Taliban had been conducting secret negotiations, and that the US was considering releasing the five men from Guantánamo, all of whom were allegedly significant Taliban prisoners.

It was not until January that it became clear that the men were to be exchanged for a US prisoner, Bowe Bergdahl, a 25-year-old US Army sergeant from Hailey, Idaho, who was taken prisoner on June 30, 2009 in Afghanistan, and that the negotiations would involve the five Taliban prisoners being released in Qatar, where they would be held under a form of house arrest, and, at the prisoners’ request, would be reunited with their families.

These releases are now on hold, as the Taliban suspended negotiations with the US last week, following the killing of 16 civilians, including nine children, by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. Read the rest of this entry »

US Injustice Laid Bare, As Afghan in Guantánamo Loses His Habeas Appeal

Ten years after the “War on Terror” began, the distressing misconceptions and exaggerations on which it was founded continue to plague its victims — and also to corrode America’s belief that it is a nation founded on justice and the law.

Ten years ago, Congress launched this “war,” approving the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a sweeping and overbroad piece of legislation which allowed the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001,” or those who harbored them.

The AUMF led to the equation of al-Qaeda (a terrorist group) with the Taliban (the government of Afghanistan), and the fallout from this decision to regard soldiers and terrorists as one and the same, and to hold both as “enemy combatants” without rights, continues to resonate in the corridors of power, and in US courtrooms.

In tackling the predicament of the Guantánamo prisoners — held, initially, without any rights whatsoever — the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights in June 2004, and, after Congress tried to take those rights away (in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006), the Supreme Court was obliged to reassert the prisoners’ habeas rights in June 2008, and to rule that Congress’s interference was unconstitutional. 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 (The State of London).
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