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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Join Me on Dec. 9 for an Online Discussion About Guantánamo with Mansoor Adayfi, Author and Former Prisoner

Promotional material for Andy Worthington’s online interview with former Guantánamo prisoner and author Mansoor Adayfi, hosted by the Justice for Muslims Collective on Thursday December 9, 2021.

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I’m honored to be interviewing former Guantánamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi in an online event this Thursday, Dec. 9, hosted by the Justice for Muslims Collective. This free event is taking place on Zoom, and if you’re interested, please register here. The event is intended primarily as a fundraiser for Mansoor, so if you can help out at all, please visit this page.

Mansoor, a Yemeni, is the talented writer of an extraordinary Guantánamo memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo, which I reviewed on its release in August, when I described it as “a devastating account of Guantánamo’s cruelty, but one suffused with hope, humor and humanity.”

I’ll be asking Mansoor to talk about his experiences as one of the “red-eyes,” a group of a dozen young Yemenis, who resisted the brutality and injustice of their imprisonment through persistent hunger strikes and non-compliance, for which they were made to suffer through repeated isolation and considerable violence, all of which was fundamentally unrelated to whatever it was that they were — or were not — alleged to have done before they got to Guantánamo.

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Former Guantánamo Prisoner Kidnapped in Yemen, Held at an Unknown Location

Abdulqadir al-Madhfari (identified by the US as Abdel Qadir Hussein al-Mudhaffari, and given the prisoner number ISN 40), in a photo taken at Guantánamo and included in his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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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 disturbing news from Yemen, reported by the Intercept, a former Guantánamo prisoner, who had only just been reunited with his family after 14 years in Guantánamo, and five subsequent years in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he had been imprisoned despite having been promised his freedom, has been seized by Houthi militia, and is being held an undisclosed location.

The disappearance of Abdulqadir al-Madhfari (identified by the US as Abdel Qadir Hussein al-Mudhaffari, and given the prisoner number ISN 40) is one of the more depressing examples of how the “taint” of having been held at Guantánamo, despite never having been charged with a crime or put on trial, dogs former prisoners. It also provides a vivid example of the US government’s almost complete lack of interest in the welfare of men released after long years of unjustifiable imprisonment in the US’s notorious offshore prison in Cuba.

Al-Madhfari’s long ordeal began almost 20 years ago, when he was seized crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Whilst it was likely that the “young physician’s assistant who dreamed of becoming a doctor,” as the Intercept described him, had been a foot soldier with the Taliban, there was no reason to suppose, as the US alleged, that he had been part of what his captors described as the “Dirty Thirty,” a group of bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, because most of the men in question were young men, who had been in Afghanistan for only a short amount of time, and would not, therefore, have been trusted to guard Al-Qaeda’s leader.

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Yemeni Torture Victim and Insignificant Afghan Approved for Release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Boards

Guantánamo prisoners Sanad al-Kazimi and Asadullah Haroon Gul, who have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards.

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Fresh from the news that Pakistani torture victim Ahmed Rabbani has been approved for release from Guantánamo by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established by President Obama, comes the further revelation that two more “forever prisoners” have also been approved for release — Sanad al-Kazimi, a Yemeni, and Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans in the prison.

The approval for the release of both men is long overdue, but it is reassuring that, after nearly 20 years, it has finally become unfashionable for the US government to suggest that men who have never been charged or tried can be held indefinitely in the notorious offshore prison at the US’s naval base in Cuba. This year, letters to President Biden from 24 Senators and 75 members of the House of Representatives have spelled out, in no uncertain terms, how men who have not been charged with crimes must be released.

In the case of Asadullah Haroon Gul, held at Guantánamo since 2007, the US’s reasons for holding him evaporated many years ago. Despite his youth (he was only around 19 years old when the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan in October 2001), he had allegedly held some kind of leadership position in Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), the militia led by the former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. A recipient of significant US funding during the time of the Soviet occupation, Hekmatyar had turned against the US following the invasion in October 2001, but in recent years had joined the Afghan government via a peace deal in 2016 that had led to HIG members being released from prison (and one, sent to the UAE from Guantánamo, being repatriated).

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URGENT ACTION REQUIRED for Six Former Guantánamo Prisoners Repatriated to Yemen from the UAE

The six men who have just been repatriated to Yemen, where their safety and liberty cannot be guaranteed, from the UAE, where they were imprisoned, rather than being integrated into Emirati society as promised, after their transfer from Guantánamo in November 2015 and August 2016. Top row, from L to R: Khalid al-Qadasi (ISN 163), Sulaiman al-Nahdi (ISN 511) and Saeed Jarabh (ISN 235). Bottom row, L to R: Jamil Nassir (ISN 728), Mohammed al-Adahi (ISN 033) and Mohammed Khusruf (ISN 509).

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In a shocking development, the government of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has repatriated six former Guantánamo prisoners — out of 18 Yemenis in total who were sent to the UAE between November 2015 and January 2017 — even though the security situation in Yemen is horrendous, because of the ongoing civil war, and their safety cannot be guaranteed.

The six men, whose stories I reported here and here, when they were transferred in November 2015 and August 2016, are Khalid al-Qadasi (ISN 163), Sulaiman al-Nahdi (ISN 511), Saeed Jarabh (ISN 235), Jamil Nassir (ISN 728), Mohammed al-Adahi (ISN 033) and Mohammed Khusruf (ISN 509). Jarabh, the youngest, was born in 1976, and is now 44 or 45 years old, while the eldest are al-Adahi, born in 1962, who is 58 or 59 years old, and Khusruf, reportedly born in February 1950, which would make him 71.

When they were first sent to the UAE, the Yemenis — and four Afghans and a Russian who were also transferred with them — were told that they would be integrated into Emirati society after spending time in a rehabilitation center, but instead they found themselves indefinitely detained in abusive conditions in secret prisons, even though they had all been unanimously approved for release either by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, or by Periodic Review Boards, the two high-level US government review processes for the Guantánamo prisoners that were established under President Obama, which assessed that they did not pose a threat to the US.

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UN Experts Condemn UAE Plans to Forcibly Repatriate Former Guantánamo Prisoner Ravil Mingazov to Russia, Where He Faces “Substantial Risk of Torture”

Ravil Mingazov, photographed at Guantánamo before his transfer to the UAE in January 2017.

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Yesterday (July 2), UN human rights experts, including Nils Melzer, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, condemned the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for its proposals to repatriate Ravil Mingazov, a former Guantánamo prisoner who was sent to the UAE from Guantánamo in January 2017, just before President Obama left office.

Despite what the experts describe as “informal assurances guaranteeing his release into Emirati society after undergoing a short-term rehabilitation programme,” Mingazov — and 22 other former prisoners (18 Yemenis and four Afghans), who were sent to the UAE from Guantánamo between November 2015 and January 2017 — found that, on their arrival in the UAE, the assurances evaporated, and they have instead been “subjected to continuous arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location in the UAE, which amounts to enforced disappearance.”

The only exceptions to this continued pattern of “arbitrary detention” and “enforced disappearance” are three of the Afghans, who, after suffering the same disgraceful treatment, were repatriated as a result of peace negotiations in Afghanistan involving the Afghan government and Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), a militant group that had supported al-Qaeda at the time of the US-led invasion of 2001, but that reached a peace deal with the Afghan government in 2016.

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Who Are the Two “Forever Prisoners” Approved for Release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Boards?

Guantánamo protests over the years: on the left, Abdulsalam al-Hela’s children call for his release from Guantánamo in Yemen in 2005, and, on the right, Sharqawi al-Hajj’s attorney, Pardiss Kebriaei, calls for his release outside the White House on January 11, 2018.

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In extraordinary news from Guantánamo, two more “forever prisoners” — the Yemeni tribal leader Abdulsalam al-Hela, 53, and Sharqawi al-Hajj, 47, another Yemeni, and a long-term hunger striker — have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards, the parole-type system established under President Obama, to add to the three approved for release in May.

Eleven of the 40 men still held have now been approved for release — the five under Biden, one under Trump, the only two of the 38 men approved for release by the PRBs under Obama who didn’t manage to escape the prison before he left office, and three other men, still languishing in Guantánamo despite being approved for release by Obama’s first review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, in 2010.

No one who cares about the need for Guantánamo to be closed should be in any doubt about the significance of these decisions.

Both men arrived at Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” in September 2004, and were both regarded as being of significance when the Guantánamo Review Task Force published its report about what President Obama should do with the 240 prisoners he inherited from George W. Bush in January 2010. At that time, as was finally revealed when the Task Force’s “Dispositions” were released in June 2013, Sharqawi al-Hajj was one of 36 men “[r]eferred for prosecution,” while al-Hela was one of 48 others recommended for “[c]ontinued detention pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001), as informed by principles of the laws of war, subject to further review by the Principals prior to the detainee’s transfer to a detention facility in the United States.”

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The 15th Anniversary of the Contentious “Triple Suicide” of Three Prisoners at Guantánamo

Yasser al-Zahrani and Ali al-Salami (aka Ali Abdullah Ahmed), two of the three prisoners who died at Guantánamo on the night of June 9, 2006, in what was described by the authorities as a “triple suicide,” an explanation that has been robustly challenged on numerous occasions in the years since. No known photo exists of the third man, Mani al-Utaybi.

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There are some days that are so significant that everyone remembers what they were doing. September 11, 2001 is one such day, when planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York, and for those paying attention to the US response to the 9/11 attacks, January 11, 2002 is also significant, when the first prisoners — “detainees,” in the Bush administration’s words — arrived at Guantánamo.

Almost immediately, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the release of photos taken by a serving US soldier — photos that showed US soldiers shouting at men who were kneeling on gravel under the burning sun at a US naval base in Cuba, half a world away from the battlefields of Afghanistan, men who were wearing orange jumpsuits, and who had their eyes, ears and mouths covered, creating the vivid impression that they were being subjected to sensory deprivation.

For US viewers, the photos were not necessarily noteworthy. Prisoners on the US mainland often wear orange, and the clearly abusive conditions captured in the photos were part of a depressingly successful narrative that the Bush administration was selling to the American people — that these men were, as Rumsfeld described it, “the worst of the worst,” terrorists so hardened and so bloodthirsty that, as General Richard E. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described it, they “would chew through a hydraulics cable to bring a C-17 [transport plane] down.”

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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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The Shameful Human Cost of Inertia at Joe Biden’s Guantánamo

Lutfi bin Ali, a Tunisian held at Guantánamo, who recently died in Mauritania, having been unable to secure the medical treatment he needed, which he had also been unable to secure in Kazakhstan, the country to which he was first released in 2014.

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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.

Today, the prison at Guantánamo Bay has been open for 7,033 days — that’s 19 years and three months — and Joe Biden has been president for 84 days, and yet, apart from some hopeful murmurings from a handful of administration officials regarding a “robust” inter-agency review of the prison, and aspirations for its closure, no concrete proposals have been issued to indicate that any movement is imminent that will break the inertia of Donald Trump’s four lamentable years as commander in chief, when just one prisoner was released, leaving 40 men still held when Biden took office, mostly held indefinitely without charge or trial.

It may be that President Biden is unwilling to discuss Guantánamo in any detail until he has firm plans for dealing with all of the men still held, and if this is the case, then it is, sadly, understandable, because the merest mention of Guantánamo tends to provoke cynical and unbridled opposition from Republicans in Congress — although if this is the case then it only shows the extent to which, as under Barack Obama, political pragmatism — and fear of unprincipled opposition from those who cynically use Guantánamo for cheap political advantage — are considered much more important than telling Americans the truth about the prison:, that every day it remains open, holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, ought to be a source of profound national shame.

Beyond political maneuvering, however, Biden’s inertia also prolongs the grinding injustice experienced on a daily basis by the men still held at Guantánamo — as well as having dangerous, and sometimes life-threatening repercussions for some of the men already released.

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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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