There’s good news from Guantánamo, as five Yemenis, approved for release from the prison in 2005, 2007 and 2014, have finally been freed, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates.
As the New York Times reported, the resettlement “was the first of its kind to the United Arab Emirates, which had previously taken in just one former Guantánamo detainee, in 2008 — its own citizen,” Abdullah al-Hamiri, whose story I discussed here.
The Times also explained that, “In May, President Obama met at Camp David with leaders or representatives of the six Middle Eastern countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, including a representative from the United Arab Emirates. The main topic of discussion was the nuclear agreement with Iran, but officials familiar with the deliberations said Mr. Obama had also pressed them to consider resettling groups of detainees. The deal announced on Sunday appears to be the first fruits of those talks.”
With these releases, 107 men remain in Guantánamo, although the Times also noted that “an official familiar with internal deliberations” said that “[a]s many as 17 other proposed transfers of lower-level detainees are in the bureaucratic pipeline.”
48 of these men have been recommended for release, 37 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. Eleven others have been approved for release, since January 2014, by Periodic Review Boards, another high-level review process established in 2013 to review the cases of all those still held who were not already approved for release, and are not facing trials (which just ten men are).
The majority of these 48 men — 39 of them — are Yemenis, and the problem for them has been that the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate them, so third countries have had to be found that are prepared to offer them new homes. With these releases, President Obama has, in the last year, released 23 Yemenis.
From my point of view, the shock — reflecting on these releases — is quite how long these men have waited to be freed since they were first told that the US no longer wanted to hold them. Four of the five were approved for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which issued its final report nearly six years ago, in January 2010, while the fifth was approved for release last year by a Periodic Review Board.
However, as I mentioned in my opening paragraph, one of the five, Said al-Busayss (ISN 165, aka Adil Said al Haj Obeid al Busayss), 42, had previously been recommended for release in 2005, under President Bush, by a military review board known as an Administrative Review Board (ARB), as I explained in an article in June 2012, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago.”
A foot soldier with the Taliban, he apparently “fought on the front lines until his unit withdrew, when he was given the option of staying or escaping. Choosing the latter, he fled to Pakistan, where he ‘surrendered his weapon and was arrested by Pakistani police,’” as I described it in my book The Guantánamo Files, and in an article in 2010.
In my 2012 article, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago,” I also explained, “In the classified US military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, al-Busayss’s file was a ‘Recommendation to Transfer to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention (TRCD),’ dated September 3, 2004.” Quite what that meant was unexplained, as it was extremely rare for any receiving country to imprison men released from Guantánamo, because of course, any alleged evidence against them was generally worthless because of the abusive conditions in which they had been held.
When the task force reviewed his case in 2009, he was one of 30 Yemenis who were approved for release but held in what the task force described as “conditional detention.” which meant that they were to be held until it was decided that the security situation in Yemen had improved — although the task force, which invented this categorization, gave no indication of how this was to be decided, or who was to make the decision.
Three of the other men were approved for release by the task force without being placed in “conditional detention,” and all three had also been approved for release in 2007.
In the classified US military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, the file for Khalid al-Qadasi, 47, was a “Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated January 22, 2007.
As I explained in an article in 2010:
Little is known of al-Qadasi, because, as the authorities at Guantánamo have explained, “he claims that he is willing to spend the rest of his life in prison and has emphatically stated that he would rather die than answer questions.” The authorities have apparently ascertained that he served in the Yemeni army as a young man and traveled to Afghanistan in July 2001, and al-Qadasi has apparently stated that he “left Yemen for Pakistan to obtain medical treatment,” and has also said that he “never possessed any weapons in Afghanistan, as he was unable to fight due to his bad back.”
The authorities refuted these claims, claiming that he was “a probable member of al-Qaida,” who “participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces” in Tora Bora, but the main claim against him — that he was “a Yemeni who fought in Tora Bora” — was made by Guantánamo’s most notorious liar, Yasim Muhammad Basardah (ISN 252), whose unreliability I discussed here — and also see the Guardian‘s important coverage.
In the files released by WikiLeaks, the file for Sulaiman al-Nahdi (ISN 511), 41, was a “Recommendation for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated August 13, 2007, although, disgracefully, the Justice Department refused to acknowledge that he had been approved for release twice, under President Bush and by President Obama’s task force, and challenged his habeas corpus petition, instead of, logically, not contesting it. Al-Nahdi subsequently had his habeas corpus petition denied, in February 2010.
A similar story is that of Fehmi al-Assani (ISN 554, aka Fahmi Salem Said al Sani), 38, for whom a transfer recommendation was made after his Administrative Review Board Round Three, on July 30, 2007 (PDF, p. 338). In the files released by WikiLeaks, his file was a “Recommendation to Retain under DoD Control (DoD),” dated October 22, 2004. Like Sulaiman al-Nahdi, he then had his habeas corpus petition denied, in February 2010, after the Justice Department challenged his petition, which they did not need to have done.
Both of these men appear to have been nothing more than recently recruited foot soldiers for the Taliban at the time of their capture, while the last of the five men to be freed, Ali Ahmad al-Razihi (ISN 045, aka Ali Ahmad Muhammad al Rahizi), 36, was, for some time, regarded, erroneously, as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
Al-Razihi had his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board on March 20, 2014, and was approved for release on April 23, 2014, and as I explained at the time, although he was initially regarded as one of the “Dirty 30,” a group of men captured in December 2001 who were considered to be bodyguards for Osama bin Laden.
Prior to his PRB, as I explained at the time:
[It was] noted that he was only “possibly” a bin Laden bodyguard. The PRB summary describe[d] the origin of this claim as “detainee reporting of questionable credibility”, adding, “FBI and other interviews of Guantánamo detainees identified that [al-Razihi] served as a bodyguard for Bin Laden, although one of them later recanted the allegation.”
In his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, the prisoner who recanted his statements was identified as Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi tortured at Guantánamo, while another alleged witness, who didn’t recant his statements, and who “photo-identified detainee as a UBL bodyguard on three separate occasions,” was the notorious liar referred to above, a Yemeni named Yasim Basardah, who was released from Guantánamo in 2010.
In conclusion, it is commendable that these five men have finally been released, and I hope they will be able to resume their lives in peace, and with support, in the UAE. I now look forward to hearing about the releases of the 17 other men mentioned by the New York Times as awaiting release, and then the 31 others currently awaiting release. I also hope that the PRBs will speed up in the new year, as there are still 45 men awaiting reviews, and President Obama is running out of time to fulfill his long-unfulfilled promise, made on his second day in office in January 2009, to close Guantánamo for good.