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 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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Horribly Repressive: The Truth About Donald Trump’s Guantánamo

Khaled Qassim, Abdul Latif Nasser and Saifullah Paracha, three of the Guantánamo prisoners who told their lawyers that, this summer, they were subjected to repressive and culturally inadequate treatment by medical personnel at the prison.

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.





 

In a recent article about Guantánamo — a rarity in the US mainstream media — ABC News picked up on a sad story of medical neglect and culturally inappropriate behavior by medical personnel at the prison, as conveyed to the broadcaster by Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, an attorney who represents some of the 40 men still held.

In “‘Degrading’: Aging detainees describe health care woes at Guantánamo 18 years after 9/11,” ABC News’ Guy Davies described how a “breakdown in trust between detainees and doctors” had “reached breaking point” at the prison.

The ailments of Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner

Davies’ article began by looking at the case of 72-year old Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, who suffers from “debilitating chest pains,” an “overactive bladder and enlarged prostate,” as well as “diabetes, coronary artery disease, diverticulosis, gout, psoriasis and arthritis,” as Sullivan-Bennis told ABC News, adding that he “has also suffered two heart attacks, one of which occurred when he was held in Bagram, in Afghanistan, before his transfer to Guantánamo” in September 2004.

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Trump’s Personal Prisoners at Guantánamo: The Five Men Cleared for Release But Still Held

Guantánamo prisoners Abdul Latif Nasir, Sufyian Barhoumi and Tawfiq al-Bihani, three of the five men still held under Donald Trump who were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

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.

The nearly three-year long presidency of Donald Trump is so strewn with scandals and cruel policies that some lingering injustices are being forgotten. A case in point is the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which is rarely reported in the mainstream media, with the valiant exception of Carol Rosenberg at the New York Times, who continues to visit the prison regularly, often being the only reporter in the whole of the US to subject the working of the facility to outside scrutiny.

And yet the longer Guantánamo remains open, the more cruel and unacceptable is its fundamentally unjust premise: that men seized nearly two decades ago can be held indefinitely without charge or trial. This was grotesque under George W. Bush, who responded by releasing nearly two-thirds of the 779 men held since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, and it remained so under Barack Obama, who, shamefully, promised to close it but never did, although he did release nearly 200 more men, via two review processes that he established.

However, a new low point has been reached under Donald Trump, who has no interest in releasing any prisoners under any circumstances, and, with one exception, has been true to his word. For the 40 men still held, the prison has become a tomb.

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Lawyers’ Fears for Guantánamo “Forever Prisoner” Sharqawi Al-Hajj “After Rapidly Declining Health and Suicidal Statements”

Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), representing her client Sharqawi al-Hajj outside the White House on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay (Photo: Shelby Sullivan-Bennis).

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Disturbing news from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who report that one of their Guantánamo clients, Sharqawi al-Hajj, “stated on a recent call with his attorney that he wanted to take his own life.” CCR described this, in a press release, as “a first” in CCR’s long representation of al-Hajj, adding that their attorneys have responded to it “with the utmost seriousness.”

As they further explain, “His suicidal statements follow a steady and observable deterioration of his physical and mental health that his legal team has been raising the alarm about for two years. They are monitoring his condition as best they can, and will provide any further information as soon as they are able.”

In an eloquent statement, CCR’s lawyers said, “When things are in a state of perpetual crisis, as they seem all around today, it is easy to lose sight of just how extreme a situation is, and grow numb to it. We have lost sight of just how extreme the situation in the Guantánamo prison is. We have grown numb to it.”

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A Rare Court Victory Offers Hope for Guantánamo’s “Forever Prisoners”

Guantánamo prisoner Khalid Qassim, in a photograph included in his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and ‘Titanic in Black and White,’ an artwork he made at Guantánamo in 2017, consisting of paint over gravel mixed with glue, which was included in the show ‘Art from Guantánamo Bay’ at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York in 2017-18.

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.

Anyone who has been following the alleged legal basis for the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of prisoners at Guantánamo should be encouraged by a ruling on June 21, 2019 by a three-judge panel — consisting of Judges Patricia A. Millett, Cornelia T. L. Pillard, and Harry T. Edwards — in the D.C. Circuit Court (the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia) in Qassim v. Trump, a case involving Khalid Qassim, a 41-year old Yemeni citizen who has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial for over 17 years.

Close Guantánamo’s co-founder Tom Wilner argued the case before the court, and, as he explains, the court “reversed an eight-year rule that has prevented Guantánamo detainees from seeing and rebutting the evidence purportedly justifying their detentions,” as part of a ruling in which the judges granted Qassim’s request to reverse the District Court’s denial of his petition for habeas corpus.

To give some necessary perspective to the significance of the ruling, it is important to understand that, for most of Guantánamo’s history, the law has failed to offer them adequate protections against executive overreach. In a glaring demonstration of arrogant folly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration decided that anyone who ended up in US custody would be treated neither as a criminal (to be charged and put on trial), nor as a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, who could be held unmolested until the end of hostilities. Instead, the prisoners were designated as “unlawful enemy combatants”; essentially, human beings without any rights whatsoever.

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Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards: The Escape Route Shut Down by Donald Trump

Four of the Guantanamo prisoners currently going through the Periodic Review Board process. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abd al-Salam al-Hilah.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.




 

Anyone paying close attention to the prison at Guantánamo Bay will know that its continued existence, nearly 17 years after it first opened, is largely down to the success of some wildly inaccurate claims that were made about it when its malevolent business first began — claims that it held “the worst of the worst” terrorists, who were all captured on the battlefield.

In fact, as my research, and that of other researchers has shown, very few of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 can realistically be described as having had any meaningful involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taliban; perhaps just 3 percent, and certainly less than 5 percent. No one was captured on the battlefield, and the majority were either foot soldiers for the Taliban in an inter-Muslim civil war that predated 9/11, or civilians swept up in ill-advised dragnets. Many, if not most of those who ended up at Guantánamo were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies for bounty payments, which averaged $5,000 a head, a huge amount of money in that part of the world.

Just 40 men are still held at Guantánamo, after George W. Bush released 532 men, and Barack Obama released 196. Nine men died, one was transferred to the US, to face a trial in which he was successfully prosecuted, and one more was reluctantly released by Donald Trump, or, rather, was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment, as part of a plea deal negotiated in his military commission trial proceedings in 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners is Bad for Them – and US Security

Four prisoners released from Guantanamo who have ended up in very different circumstances following the closure by Donald Trump of the office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. Clockwise from top left: Abu Wa'el Dhiab, Omar Mohammed Khalifh, Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi and Ravil Mingazov.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, as “Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners Endangers U.S. National Security,” 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.

The presence of Donald Trump in the White House has been an unmitigated disaster for anyone concerned about the ongoing existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and any notion of justice regarding those held there, or, indeed, those freed from the prison over the years.

For Trump, the notion that there might be anything wrong — or un-American — about imprisoning people forever without any meaningful form of due process clearly doesn’t exist. Since he took office nearly two years ago, only one prisoner has been released, out of the 41 men still held at the prison when Obama took office; and that man, Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi, was only released, and transferred to ongoing imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, because of a plea deal he agreed to in his military commission trial proceedings back in 2014.

Trump, clearly, has no desire to meaningfully continue the parole-type process — the Periodic Review Boards — that Barack Obama initiated to release lower-level prisoners who could demonstrate that they didn’t pose a threat to the U.S. Indeed, his contempt for the process is such that he has shut down any possibility of the two men whose release was approved by Obama’s PRBs, but who didn’t get released before Obama left office, being freed by shutting down the State Department office that dealt with resettlements — the office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure. 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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