Obama Releases Names of Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners; Now It’s Time to Set Them Free

On Friday, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which consisted of officials from key government departments and the intelligence agencies. The Task Force’s final report was issued in January 2010.

Until now, the government has always refused to release the names, hindering efforts by the prisoners’ lawyers — and other interested parties — to publicize their plight.

The rationale for this was explained by Ambassador Daniel Fried, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility, in June 2009, when he stated that “indiscriminate public disclosure of the decisions resulting from reviews by Guantánamo Review Task Force will impair the US Government’s ability effectively to repatriate and resettle Guantánamo detainees” under the executive order establishing a review of the prisoners’ cases, which was issued on President Obama’s second day in office in January 2009, at the same time that he promised to close Guantánamo within a year. Read the rest of this entry »

“Pragmatism Over Ideology”: Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo, and His Love of Drones

Last week, a major article in the New York Times painted a grim portrait of how President Obama has taken over from George W. Bush as the “commander in chief” of a “war on terror” that seems to have no end, and that not only appears to be counter-productive, but also, at heart, illegal.

Understandably, critics have been alarmed by the article’s revelations about a President who holds regular meetings to decide who should be on a “kill list” for drone strikes — in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — and who insists on approving the targets of drone raids, which is his primary method of dealing with the perceived terrorist threat, by “poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.”

As well as claiming the right to kill people (including US citizens) in drone attacks that seem very clearly to do away with notions of national sovereignty — and which therefore play into George W. Bush’s dreadful notion of the entire world as an endless battlefield — the Times article also noted that President Obama has also “embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties,” which “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago

This investigative report is published simultaneously here, and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I established in January 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.

One of the greatest injustices at Guantánamo is that, of the 169 prisoners still held, over half — 87 in total — were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force. The Task Force involved around 60 career officials from various government departments and the intelligence agencies, who spent the first year of the Obama Presidency reviewing the cases of all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo, to decide whether they should be tried, released, or, in some cases, held indefinitely without charge or trial. The Task Force’s final report is here (PDF).

Exactly who these 87 men are is a closely held secret on the part of the administration, which is unfortunate for those of us working towards the closure of Guantánamo, as it prevents us from campaigning as effectively as we would like for the majority of these men, given that we are not entirely sure of their status. Attorneys for the prisoners have been told about their clients’ status, but that information — as with so much involving Guantánamo — is classified.

However, through recent research — into the classified military files about the Guantánamo prisoners, compiled by the Joint Task Force at the prison, which were released last year by WikiLeaks, as well as documents made available by the Bush administration, along with some additional information from the years of the Obama administration — I have been able to establish the identities of 40 men — 23 Yemenis, and 17 from other countries — who, between 2004 and 2009, were cleared for release by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, by military review boards under the Bush administration, or by President Obama’s Task Force, and to identify the official documents in which these decisions were noted. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: Washington Post Calls for Last Three Uighur Prisoners to Be Freed in the US

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we were delighted when, a fortnight ago, two prisoners were released from Guantánamo, the first prisoners to be released for 15 months. The two men in question, Abdul Razak Qadir and Ahmed Mohamed, were released in El Salvador, because they are Uighurs, Muslims from Xinjiang province in China, and they were resettled in El Salvador because the US agreed with them — and their lawyers — that it was unsafe for them to be returned to China, where Uighurs face persecution from the Chinese government.

The background to the stories of the Uighurs — 22 of whom were held at Guantánamo in total — was reported in depth in two previous articles for “Close Guantánamo” — New “Close Guantánamo” Campaign Begins Prisoner Profiles, Features Abdul Razak Qadir, One of Five Innocent Uighurs Still Held and Guantánamo: Who Are The Two Uighurs Freed in El Salvador, and Why Are 87 Men Cleared for Release Still Held? — in which it was explained that, after fleeing China, most of them had been living in a rundown settlement in the Afghan mountains, which was bombed by US forces after the US-led invasion in October 2001, forcing them to flee to Pakistan, where villagers first welcomed them and then stealthily sold them to US forces.

The struggle to find new homes for the Uighurs began under President Bush, who relocated five of them to Albania in May 2006. Under President Obama, four were sent to Bermuda in June 2009, six to Palau in October 2009, and two to Switzerland in March 2010, but it took until two weeks ago for a new home to be found for any of the five remaining Uighurs who had been waiting for a new home for over two years. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo: Who Are The Two Uighurs Freed in El Salvador, and Why Are 87 Men Cleared for Release Still Held?

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

With no fanfare — just an announcement on its website — the Pentagon informed the world on Thursday that two Uighur prisoners at Guantánamo, held for over ten years but recognized as innocent almost from the moment of their capture, had been freed in El Salvador. As the Pentagon helpfully explained, the two men “were subject to release from Guantánamo as a result of a court order issued on October 7, 2008 by the US District Court for the District of Columbia,” and it was also noted that they “are voluntarily resettling in El Salvador.”

The Pentagon also noted, “As directed by the President’s January 22, 2009, executive order, the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of these cases,” and, as a result, they “were designated for transfer by unanimous consent among all six agencies on the task force.”

The release of these men is most welcome, because, primarily as a result of deliberate Congressional obstruction, no living prisoner has left Guantánamo for 15 months — the longest period without any releases in the prison’s ten-year history. The last living prisoner to leave Guantánamo was an Algerian, Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, who won his habeas corpus petition and was repatriated, against his will, in January 2011, but the last two men to leave the prison had actually left in coffins, having died in the prison in February and May last year. Read the rest of this entry »

News from Albania: One Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Becomes A Father, While Another Is Not Allowed to Return Home

In the last week, two Guantánamo stories have emerged from Albania, home to ten former Guantánamo prisoners — all prisoners who could not be safely repatriated after being cleared for release from Guantánamo. Four men are Uighurs (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) released in May 2006, three others — an Algerian, an Egyptian and a Russian — were freed in December 2006, and three others — a Libyan, a Tunisian and another Egyptian — were released in February 2010.

One of the stories, cross-posted below, concerns Abu Bakker Qassim, one of the Uighurs, who recently became a father, and was interviewed by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on a recent visit. The other concerns Sherif El-Meshad, the Egyptian released in February 2010.

On March 23, the website Balkan Insight explained that El-Meshad (described as Sherif Almeshad), who is 35 years old, is being prevented from returning to Egypt by the Albanian government, even though “the post-Mubarak government in Egypt says he is welcome to come back.” Representatives of the legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent El-Meshad, told Balkan Insight that the “Albanian authorities have repeatedly denied El-Meshad’s requests to return home although the new government in Cairo has provided written assurances that he will be welcome in Egypt and faces no risks there.” In addition, the Albanian border police have twice prevented El-Meshad’s Albanian wife from traveling to Egypt, even though she has a valid Egyptian visa. Read the rest of this entry »

To Mark 10 Years of Guantánamo, Stern Magazine Profiles Five Former Prisoners

Last week, when I cross-posted an article written for the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo by my friend Todd Pierce, I also noted that when I visited the US in January to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo Bay, I was so busy that I did not have time to cross-post other articles of interest that were published at the time, and added, “In the hope of keeping alive some of that spirit of awareness about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo that flickered briefly to life around the anniversary, I’m planning to cross-post some of these articles.”

After starting with Todd’s article, I’m now moving on to a detailed article that was published in Germany’s Stern Magazineavailable here as a PDF, and helpfully translated into English for Cageprisoners, via Google Translate, in a translation that I have tidied up.

The article features interviews with five former prisoners — Sami al-Laithi (aka el-Leithi), an Egyptian; Omar Deghayes, a British resident; Mohammed el-Gharani, a Chadian and former child prisoner; Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, an Afghan and a former Taliban ambassador; and Abu Bakker Qassim, a Uighur (a Muslim from China’s Xinjiang province) released from Guantánamo to Albania. The stories of all of these men have been reported before, but fresh eyes and ears are also ways useful to continue to expose the horrific history of Guantánamo, and its ongoing injustices, and the Stern article also featured a collection of powerful photos, as well as quotes from other prisoners — David Hicks (from Australia), Murat Kurnaz (from Germany) and Moazzam Begg (from the UK). Read the rest of this entry »

New “Close Guantánamo” Campaign Begins Prisoner Profiles, Features Abdul Razak Qadir, One of Five Innocent Uighurs Still Held

The new “Close Guantánamo” website, an initiative I was involved in launching last month, with a petition on the White House’s “We the People” website, has now entered a new phase — presenting the prisoners’ stories, as told by their attorneys — which is a project that, hopefully, will run throughout the year, and will feed into new campaigns and projects. Please sign up here if you’re interested in adding your voice, and in receiving regular updates.

In the meantime, to help promote the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the prisoner profiles, I’m cross-posting below the introduction to the prisoner profiles and the first profile, a thorough and detailed account of Abdul Razak Qadir, one of five Uighurs (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) who are still held at Guantánamo, written by his attorney Seema Saifee. Please note that many of the links have been added especially for this cross-post.

Telling the Guantánamo Prisoners’ Stories: The 89 Men Cleared for Release
Close Guantánamo, February 8, 2012

When the “Close Guantánamo” website was established a month ago, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, we had two aims — to push for the closure of the prison, particularly by focusing on the injustice of holding 89 prisoners cleared for release, out of 171 prisoners in total; and to dispel the still prevalent myths about the prisoners being “the worst of the worst,” by telling their stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: The Suffering of the Uighurs in Palau

The story of Guantánamo’s Uighurs has always been one of monstrous injustice — as well as a monstrous failure of intelligence, and an equally monstrous failure when it comes to the US government taking responsibility for its own mistakes. This is not a unique occurrence in Guantánamo, of course, but it has long been emblematic of the many failures of Guantánamo.

Briefly, the Uighurs are Muslims from Xinjiang province in north-western China, an area subjected to persecution by the Chinese government. The 22 Uighurs who ended up at Guantánamo were, for the most part, refugees who had been thwarted in their attempts to reach Turkey or Europe in search of work, or who, in some instances, nursed futile hopes of rising up against their oppressors. None had any involvement with al-Qaeda, terrorism or militancy against the United States, and they only ended up in Guantánamo because the rundown settlement in which they had been living in the mountains of Afghanistan was bombed by US forces, and, after they fled to Pakistan, they were sold to US forces by Pakistani villagers.

It was clear from the beginning that prisoners whose only enemy was the Chinese government should never have been held at Guantánamo, but they were used as pawns in negotiations with the Chinese government prior to the invasion of Iraq, and although five of the Uighurs were found a new home in Albania in May 2006, it took until 2008 — and a humiliating court defeat — for the Bush administration to give up its claim that the other 17 were “enemy combatants.” As a result, their habeas corpus petitions were granted in October 2008, but although a judge ordered them to be released in the United States, the Bush administration, and then the Obama administration disagreed, and appealed the ruling, securing a favorable response in February 2009 from the right wing judges in the D.C. Circuit Court. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Call for the Closure of Guantánamo By Signing the White House Petition

It’s three years since President Obama promised to close Guantánamo.

Remind President Obama of his promise. Sign the petition on the White House’s “We the People” website urging him to honor his promise. 25,000 signatures are needed by February 6 to secure a response, so please sign up, and please spread the word.

What happened to President Obama’s bold promise?

Three years ago, on January 22, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order promising to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay within a year, but he did not move swiftly to implement his promise, and Congress then stepped in with onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners or their transfer to the US mainland for any reason, even to be tried or imprisoned. 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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