Great News from Guantánamo As Three “Forever Prisoners,” Including 73-Year Old Saifullah Paracha, Are Approved for Release

Guantánamo prisoners Saifullah Paracha, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, whose long overdue release from the prison was approved by Periodic Review Boards on Monday, although it is not yet known when they will actually be released.

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In extremely encouraging news from Guantánamo, three men have been approved for release from the prison by Periodic Review Boards, the high-level government review process established under President Obama.

The three men are: 73-year old Pakistani citizen Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner; Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, another Pakistani citizen who is 54 years old; and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, a 41-year old Yemeni. All have been held without charge or trial at Guantánamo for between 17 and 19 years.

Between November 2013 and January 2017, when President Obama left office, the Periodic Review Boards — consisting of 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 — reviewed the cases of 64 prisoners, to ascertain whether or not they should still be regarded as a threat to the US, and, in 38 cases, recommended the prisoners for release. All but two of these men were released before the end of Obama’s presidency.

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Video: Guantánamo Attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis and I Discuss the Prison’s Ongoing Horrors for Revolution Books Online

A screenshot from “America’s Torture Colony: 19 Years of Guantánamo … It Must Be Closed NOW!”, an online event hosted by Revolution Books, featuring Andy Worthington and Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, and host Raymond Lotta.

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Yesterday, I was delighted to take part in a two-hour online discussion about Guantánamo, with the attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, which was hosted by Revolution Books in New York, and live streamed on YouTube and Facebook.

Before the arrival of Covid, the Revolution Books event was one of the regular highlights of my annual visits to the US (every January from 2011 to 2020), to mark the anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2002 — and last year, Shelby joined me for the first time, in what was a highly-charged event, as we had just spent the day deep in discussion about Guantánamo, at an exhibition of art by the prisoners, at CUNY Law School in Queens, which Shelby had played a major part in organizing.

This year, of course, all live events on and around the anniversary were called off, and I wasn’t able to visit the US at all, but the Zoom event that replaced the in-store presentation was still a very powerful and emotional event, and while nothing quite compares to being in a room with an audience and interacting with them (and even going out for dinner in Harlem afterwards!), Zoom allows people to join an event from all round the world, and, as yesterday demonstrated, doesn’t necessarily hamper the ability to get a message across.

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“A Big Black Stain That Provides No Benefit Whatsoever”: Lawyers Urge Joe Biden to Close Guantánamo

An unidentified prisoner in the recreation yard of Camp 6 at Guantánamo Bay, probably photographed in 2015 (Photo: AFP).

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One month since the Presidential Election, and with less than seven weeks until Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, it’s reassuring that the need for the prison at Guantánamo Bay to be closed is being discussed in the US media. 40 men are still held at Guantánamo — five approved for release by high-level government review process under President Obama; nine facing or having faced trials in the military commissions; and 26 others officially held indefinitely without charge or trial.

For the Associated Press — in a story entitled, “Biden’s win means some Guantánamo prisoners may be released,” which was widely picked up on and reported across the US and around the world — longtime Guantánamo watcher Ben Fox began by speaking to attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who was at  Guantánamo for her client Saifullah Paracha’s latest Periodic Review Board hearing.

Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, Paracha, 73, whose case I have covered extensively, has diabetes and a heart condition, and is one of the 26 “forever prisoners,” held on an ongoing basis without charge or trial because the US authorities allege that they pose some kind of “threat” to national security. However, as Ben Fox explained, he “went to his latest review board hearing with a degree of hope, something that has been scarce during his 16 years locked up without charges at the US base in Cuba,” because, as he added, he “had two things going for him that he didn’t have at previous hearings: a favorable legal development and the election of Joe Biden.”

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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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Guantánamo Voices: An Amazing Comic Book Version of the Guantánamo Story

The front cover of “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” and a page from the chapter based on an interview with attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, featuring the campaign to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, drawn by Kasia Babis, a Polish cartoonist and political activist.

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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.

I have nothing but praise for “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” a brand-new book, just published by Abrams, which was written by Portland-based multi-media journalist Sarah Mirk, and illustrated by a number of talented graphic artists.

I should say upfront that I was the fact checker for the book, having been in contact with Sarah for many years. In 2018, I appeared, in comic book form, illustrated by the Australian artist Jess Parker, in Guantánamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!, a story in the comics anthology magazine The Nib, for which Sarah is an editor, based on an interview she had conducted with me in October 2017.

Previously, I had met Sarah in London in January 2009, when she came to the UK with former Guantánamo guard Chris Arendt for an extraordinary tour of the UK, also featuring former prisoner and British citizen Moazzam Begg (released in 2005) and other ex-prisoners, called “Two Sides, One Story,” which was organized by the advocacy group Cageprisoners (now CAGE).

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“I Can’t Breathe”: Afghan Prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul on Black Lives Matter and Violent Oppression in Guantánamo

Asadullah Haroon Gul, as featured in a photo taken in Guantánamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.

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Over the last few months I’ve cross-posted, on two occasions, articles by Asadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan prisoner in Guantánamo who is seeking the support of his government in securing his release — A Coronavirus Lament by Guantánamo Prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul and Asadullah Haroon Gul, a “No-Value Detainee,” and One of the Last Two Afghans in Guantánamo, Asks to Be Freed — and below I’m cross-posting a third, written in response to the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and originally published in Newsweek. In it, Gul takes George Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” and draws parallels with the brutal treatment of prisoners in Guantánamo, himself included, expressing support for Black Lives Matter and hoping that, like the civil rights movement, it will bring significant change.

As he states, “America’s business is not my business but if human beings anywhere are struggling for justice, I must support them even from my cell in Guantánamo Bay. Perhaps my brothers and sisters marching in the streets will turn their eyes on this island prison, and witness our common cause.”

One of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo, in June 2007, Gul was apparently seized because of his alleged involvement 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. 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.

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Lockdown Listening: Radiolab’s Six-Part, Four-Hour Series About Guantánamo Prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release But Still Held

An image produced by Will Paybarah for Radiolab’s series “The Other Latif,” about Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser.

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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.

As the coronavirus continues to impact massively on our lives, via lockdowns and a global death count that has now reached over 250,000, spare a thought for the prisoners at Guantánamo, who are more isolated than ever. Although it is profoundly reassuring that the virus has not reached the prison — despite a US sailor contracting it on the naval base in March — the 40 men still held have not had any contact with anyone other than their captors since the US lockdown began.

Their attorneys are no longer able to fly out to see them, and, last Saturday, Carol Rosenberg of the New York Times tweeted that the International Committee of the Red Cross had “canceled its quarterly visit because of the virus.”  As she proceeded to explain, ICRC delegations have been “meeting with the detainees and prison commander since Camp X-Ray opened in 2002,” and the visit on May 22 would have been the ICRC’s 135th visit to the prison.

As the lockdown continues — and so many of us have more time on our hands than previously — now seems like a good opportunity for those of you who are interested in Guantánamo to listen to “The Other Latif,” an unprecedented six-part, four-hour series about one particular prisoner, Abdul Latif Nasser, the last Moroccan national in the prison, whose case we have covered many times over the years — see, for example, Abandoned in Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release Three Years Ago, But Still Held, from last August, and Trump’s Personal Prisoners at Guantánamo: The Five Men Cleared for Release But Still Held, from last November.

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Photos and Report: The Launch of “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison” at CUNY School of Law in New York

One of the extraordinary ships made out of recycled materials at Guantánamo by Moath al-Alwi, who is still held, as shown in the exhibition, “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison,” at CUNY School of Law in New York (Photo: Elena Olivo).

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Last week was the launch of “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison,” a powerful new art exhibition featuring work by eleven current and former Guantánamo prisoners at CUNY School of Law’s Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice, in Long Island City in Queens, New York, which I wrote about in an article entitled, Humanizing the Silenced and Maligned: Guantánamo Prisoner Art at CUNY Law School in New York

This is only the second time that Guantánamo prisoners’ artwork has been displayed publicly, following a 2017 exhibition at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, also in New York, which became something of a cause célèbre after the Pentagon complained about it. That institutional hissy fit secured considerable sympathy for the prisoners — and criticism for the DoD — but in the end the prisoners lost out, as the authorities at Guantánamo clamped down on their ability to produce artwork, and prohibited any artwork that was made — and which the prisoners had been giving to their lawyers, and, via their lawyers, to their families — from leaving the prison under any circumstances. 

Since the launch, a wealth of new information has come my way, via Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represents around ten of the 40 men still held at Guantánamo, and who was one of the main organizers of the exhibition, which is running until mid-March, with further manifestations continuing, I hope, throughout the rest of the year.

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Humanizing the Silenced and Maligned: Guantánamo Prisoner Art at CUNY Law School in New York

Artwork by Guantánamo prisoner Khalid Qasim, still held without charge or trial, showing in “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison,” an exhibition at CUNY School of Law in New York.

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.

For the men held in the US government’s disgraceful prison at Guantánamo Bay, where men have now been held for up to 18 years, mostly without charge or trial, the US authorities’ persistent efforts to dehumanize them — and to hide them from any kind of scrutiny that might challenge their captors’ assertions that they are “the worst of the worst” and should have no rights whatsoever as human beings — have involved persistent efforts to silence them, to prevent them from speaking about their treatment, and to prevent them from sharing with the world anything that might reveal them as human beings, with the ability to love, and the need to be loved, and with hopes and fears just like US citizens.

Cutting through this fog of secrecy and censorship, “Guantánamo [Un]Censored: Art from Inside the Prison” is an exhibition of prisoners’ art that is currently showing in the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice at CUNY (City University of New York) School of Law, based in Long Island City in Queens. The exhibition opened on February 19, and is running through to the middle of March. Entry is free, and anyone is welcome to attend.

As the organizers explain on the CUNY website, “The exhibit showcases artworks — the majority of which have never before been displayed — of eleven current and former Guantánamo prisoners, and includes a range of artistic styles and mediums. From acrylic landscapes on canvas to model ships made from scavenged materials such as plastic bottle caps and threads from prayer rugs, ‘Guantánamo [Un]Censored’ celebrates the creativity of the artists and their resilience.”

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Video: Attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis and I Bring the Sorrow, Injustice and Cruelty of Guantánamo to Life at Revolution Books in New York

Andy Worthington and Guantánamo attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis discussing Guantánamo at Revolution Books in New York on January 16, 2020, five days after the 18th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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’m just back in the UK after a ten-day trip to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay that has, I think, been as constructive as anyone could have expected. I took part in a prominent rally in Washington, D.C., two speaking events with lawyers representing prisoners, one TV interview and six radio interviews.

The rally (video here) was outside the White House on January 11, the 18th anniversary of the opening of the prison, where I spoke as a representative of the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I established with the attorney Tom Wilner eight years ago, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison. The rally also involved representatives of numerous other groups that remain concerned about the existence of Guantánamo, including Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Witness Against Torture, whose members fast and stage actions in the run-up to the anniversary, and who, in their orange jumpsuits and hoods, provide a suitably grim theatrical backdrop to the occasion.

On Monday January 13, Tom Wilner and I spoke at the New America think-tank, a well-attended event for which, I hope, a video will be available soon. I then returned to New York, where I was interviewed by RT in a seven-minute feature that, shockingly, constituted the sole focus on the Guantánamo anniversary in the whole of the US broadcast media, and I then took part in my second speaking event, at Revolution Books in Harlem, which I’m posting below.

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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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