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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In Trump’s Dying Days, Guantánamo Review Board Approves Yemeni Prisoner for Release

On the left: Said Salih Said Nashir (aka Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo who has just had his release approved by a Periodic Review Board. The other men are Moath al-Alwi and Omar al-Rammah, who, unfortunately, had their ongoing imprisonment upheld by PRBs, nearly three and four years respectively since their hearings took place.

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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 three years and eleven months since Donald Trump’s inauguration, there has been — until now — no good news from Guantánamo. That first piece of good news, reported by NPR on December 11, is that Said Salih Said Nashir, a 46-year old Yemeni held at Guantánamo without charge or trial for 18 years, has been unanimously approved for release from the prison by a Periodic Review Board.

Consisting of a panel of military and intelligence officials, the Periodic Review Boards were established by President Obama, to review the cases of men held at Guantánamo who had not been recommended for release by Obama’s first high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.

The task force’s report — recommending 156 prisoners for release, 36 for prosecution, and 48 for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial — was issued in January 2010, but by the time the PRBs took place, beginning in November 2013, just 41 of the 48 men recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial remained: two had died, and five others — high-ranking Taliban officials — were freed in a prisoner swap.

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After Years in Secret Prisons, UAE Threatens Unsafe Repatriations to Yemen for Former Guantánamo Prisoners

Photos of 16 of the 18 Yemenis sent from Guantánamo to Yemen between 2015 and 2017, who were imprisoned instead of, as promised, being given new lives, and who are now being threatened with being sent back to Yemen, despite the dangers involved. The photos are taken from the classified military files from Guantánamo that were released by Wikileaks in 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner.

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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.

Depressing but important news about life after Guantánamo was published by the Associated Press on Wednesday, focusing on the appalling treatment that former Guantánamo prisoners have received since being resettled in the United Arab Emirates between November 2015 and January 2017, when President Obama left office; specifically, 18 Yemenis (out of 23 men in total sent to the UAE), who have now been told that the UAE is preparing to repatriate them, even though their lives may well be at risk in Yemen.

As reporter Maggie Michael described it, the prisoners “were promised they were being sent to a Muslim country for rehabilitation that would help integrate them into society, opening the way to jobs, money, and marriage, according to their lawyers and families. It was a lie.”

To anyone paying close attention, this wasn’t news. The Washington Post reported in May 2018 that former prisoners sent to the UAE after being unanimously approved for release by high-level US government review processes remain imprisoned, despite promises that their new host country would help them rebuild their lives. Missy Ryan’s story was entitled, “After over a decade at Guantanamo, these men were supposed to go free. Instead, they’re locked in a secretive center in the UAE.”

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Never Forget: The “Season of Death” at Guantánamo

Four of the five prisoners who died at Guantánamo between May 30 and June 9 in 2006, 2007 and 2009, hence my description of it as the “season of death.” The top row shows Yasser al-Zahrani and Ali al-Salami, two of the three men who died on the night of June 9, 2006. No photo exists of the third man, Mani al-Utaybi. The bottom row shows the only photo of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, who died on May 30, 2007, and Mohammed al-Hanashi (Muhammad Salih), who died on June 1, 2009. All the deaths were described by the authorities as suicides, but these claims are disputed.

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There are days in your life when events take place and everyone remembers where they were. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are one example; and, depending on your age, others might be the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela being freed from prison, and the “shock and awe” of the opening night of the illegal invasion of Iraq.

One of those occasions for me is June 10, 2006, when it was reported that three prisoners at Guantánamo had died, allegedly by committing suicide — two Saudis, Yasser al-Zahrani, who was just 18 when he arrived at Guantánamo, and Mani al-Utaybi, and Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni. The authorities’ response was astonishingly insensitive, with Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the prison’s commander, saying, “This was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us.”

While it remains deeply shocking to me, 14 years on, that suicide could be described as an act of war, this was not the only problem with the authorities’ response to the deaths. The Pentagon’s PR machine swiftly derided the men as dangerous terrorists, even though none of them had been charged or tried for any offence. In fact, one of them, Mani al-Utaybi, had been approved for transfer back to his home country — although the authorities were unable to say whether or not he had been informed of this fact before he died.

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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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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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