Good news from Guantánamo, as another prisoner, Obaidullah, an Afghan, is approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. Decisions have now been taken in the cases of 29 prisoners, with 22 recommended for release, and just seven recommended for ongoing imprisonment. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 76%, which is hugely significant, because, back in 2010, they were either recommended for prosecution or were described as “too dangerous to release” by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established, shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the prisoners held when he became president. 18 men were in the former category, and 46 in the latter.
The decision also means that, of the 80 men still held, 28 have been approved for release — 15 by the task force in 2010, and 13 by the PRBs (nine of those approved for release by PRBs have already been freed). 35 others are awaiting PRBs, or are awaiting decisions, and just ten men are facing trials — or have already had trials.
Obaidullah, who was just 19 years old when he was seized at his home in Afghanistan in July 2002, is one of the prisoners who had initially been recommended for prosecution — and is the second former prosecution candidate to be recommended for release by a PRB (three others have been recommended for ongoing imprisonment). He had been put forward for a trial by military commission in September 2008, charged with providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy, based on claims that he “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment”; that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.”
At the time, I described these allegations as “the thinnest set of allegations to date” in the commissions, in an article entitled, “Guantánamo trials: another insignificant Afghan charged,” in which I also mentioned how Obaidullah had spoken, in an earlier review at Guantánamo, of his torture by US forces in Afghanistan — how, in Khost, US soldiers “put a knife to my throat and said if you don’t tell us the truth and you lie to us we are going to slaughter you,” how they “tied my hands and put a heavy bag of sand on my hands and made me walk all night in the Khost airport,” and how, In Bagram, “they gave me more trouble and would not let me sleep. They were standing me on the wall and my hands were hanging above my head. There were a lot of things they made me say.”
As I also pointed out, when Charlie Savage of the New York Times wrote about Lt. Cmdr. Pandis’s investigation back in 2012, he noted, “It is an accident of timing that Mr. Obaidullah is at Guantánamo. One American official who was formerly involved in decisions about Afghanistan detainees said that such a ‘run of the mill’ suspect would not have been moved to Cuba had he been captured a few years later; he probably would have been turned over to the Afghan justice system, or released if village elders took responsibility for him.” The last Afghans transferred to the general population in Guantánamo were sent in November 2003, and it is certainly true to note that the majority of alleged Afghan insurgents seized and held at Bagram from December 2003 onwards were returned to their families many years ago.
It is also worth noting, I believe, that, when Obaidullah was first charged, I wrote, “It doesn’t take much reflection on these charges to realize that it is a depressingly clear example of the US administration’s disturbing, post-9/11 redefinition of ‘war crimes,’ which apparently allows the US authorities to claim that they can equate minor acts of insurgency committed by a citizen of an occupied nation with terrorism.”
In October 2010, Obaidullah also had his habeas corpus petition ruled on by a US judge, who turned it down, but, as the Associated Press noted this week, “The government dismissed the [military commission] charges in 2011 and his lawyers have been pressing for his release ever since.” This was even before the charges in the military commissions were largely discredited, when, in 2012 and 2013, appeals court judges ruled that providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy were not war crimes triable by a military commission.
Also in 2011, an investigator with the defense team for his military commission, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard Pandis, “visited Afghanistan, establishing a coherent narrative in which Obaidullah was innocent,” as I explained in an article in 2011, and as I described it in my recent article discussing Obaidullah’s PRB last month. I added:
To cite just one example unearthed during the investigation, the fact that dried blood was found in the back seat of his car — which the US authorities attributed to him carrying wounded insurgents — actually came about because, “two nights before the raid, Mr. Obaidullah’s wife had given birth in the car while on the way to the hospital.” The defense team added that he “had not volunteered that explanation about the blood” because of “a cultural taboo about discussing childbirth.”
The board members issued their final determination on May 19, confirming, that, “by consensus,” they had “determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
The board members explained that that had “some concern with the [Odaidullah]’s failure to demonstrate sufficient candor related to events prior to detention,” but “found that the risk [he] presents can be adequately mitigated” in light of the following: that he “has not expressed any intent to re-engage in terrorist activities [and] has not espoused any anti-US sentiment that would indicate he views the US as his enemy,” that “neither [he] nor his family have any ties to extremists outside of Guantánamo,” and that he “has been mostly compliant while at Guantánamo.”
The board members added that they had “also considered the multiple letters of support for [Obaidullah], to include the willingness to provide [him] financial and integration support upon transfer, [his] efforts to take advantage of education opportunities while at Guantánamo, and [his] positive and constructive leadership in detention, to include mediating concerns raised between other detainees and between detainees and the guard staff.”
It was recommended that he be transferred “preferably to a country with an integration program, strong monitoring program, and an ability to keep [him] productively engaged,” and I hope a case can be made for him be returned to his family in Afghanistan, where, I believe, he deserves to be after his nearly 14-year ordeal.