By Andy Worthington, March 4, 2014
On February 20, my friend and colleague, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, published a prisoner list from Guantánamo, which he had just obtained from the Pentagon, and which had not previously been made public.
The list, "71 Guantánamo Detalnees Determined Eligible to Receive a Periodic Review Board as of April 19, 2013," identifies, by name, 71 of the 166 prisoners who were held at the time, and, as Jason explained in an accompanying article:
The unclassified two-page list was obtained by Al Jazeera in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed last July, immediately after a Defense Department official began notifying attorneys for some prisoners that parole hearings would begin in an effort to empty out Guantánamo and help President Barack Obama make good on his five-year-old promise to shutter the detention facility.""
When the notifications began last July (which I wrote about here), it was apparent that the decisions regarding the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) were based on recommendations made in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. The task force members spent a year reviewing the cases of the 240 prisoners held when Obama took office, and recommended them for release (156 men, 80 of whom have been released), for prosecution (36 men in total) or for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release but insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.
This latter category, comprising 48 of the prisoners, was profoundly troubling to those of us who had looked closely at what purported to be the evidence against the prisoners, and had concluded, with good reason, that it was profoundly unreliable. This is because it consisted, to an alarming degree, of self-incriminating statements made by the prisoners themselves, often in circumstances in which coercion, or other forms of pressure were used, or of statements made by other prisoners, even though many of these prisoners had been identified as unreliable by personnel at Guantánamo, and also, in some cases, by judges reviewing the supposed evidence in the prisoners' habeas corpus petitions.
In July, when the first Periodic Review Board notifications began, it was obvious that the 71 men included 46 of the 48 men who had been designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the task force. The other two, sadly, had died at Guantánamo in 2011. Following the task force's recommendations, President Obama had issued an executive order designating these 46 men for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, but had attempted to deflect criticism from human rights advocates by promising that they would receive Periodic Review Boards, so when the notifications began they were, to be frank, long overdue.
The identities of these 46 men were revealed last June, when Charlie Savage of the New York Times obtained, for the first time, the "Final Dispositions" of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, identifying whether those still held had been cleared for release, recommended for prosecution, or recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.
The identities of these 46 men can also be found in our prisoner list, or in the list of prisoners included in my article in January providing information for those who want to write to the prisoners at Guantánamo.
Until now, however, the US government had not spelled out publicly who the other 25 men were, although the identities of the 36 men recommended for prosecution had been made available last June in the task force's "Final Dispositions," and most of the 25 could be worked out by removing from the 36 the names of those who have already been charged.
Four of these men are no longer at Guantánamo -- Ibrahim al-Qosi, Omar Khadr and Noor Uthman Muhammed were released after agreeing to plea deals in their trials by military commission, and one other -- Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani -- was transferred to the US, where he was tried and convicted, and another, Majid Khan, agreed to a plea deal and is still held.
Eight others have been charged -- Ahmed al-Darbi, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Walid Bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi.
According to this analysis of the figures, only eleven men should have been charged, rather than the 13 who have been charged, but the list obtained by Jason Leopold explains the discrepancy, as Ahmed al-Darbi and Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, although on the list, will evidently not be facing Periodic Review Boards. Al-Darbi recently agreed to a plea deal, and al-Iraqi, charged in June 2013, recently had conspiracy added to his charge sheet.
This was in spite of the fact that, although 36 men were recommended for prosecution, only 13 have been charged because judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C., in two ground-breaking cases in October 2012 and January 2013, dismissed two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions, of Salim Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, on the basis that the charges -- material support for terrorism and conspiracy -- were not real war crimes and had been invented by Congress.
As a result of removing these names, it has now become clear that the 25 men originally recommended for prosecution, but now facing PRBs instead, include such prominent figures in Guantánamo's history as Abu Zubaydah, the first supposed "high-value detainee," held in CIA "black sites" from March 2002 to September 2006, when he arrived at Guantánamo. The Bush administration's vile torture program was first developed for Abu Zubaydah, even though he was never a member of al-Qaeda at all, despite being initially touted as the organization's third-in-command. Also facing a PRB is Mohammed al-Qahtani, supposedly intended as the 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, who had a specific torture program approved for him at Guantánamo by Donald Rumsfeld.
Also included are other "high-value detainees" held in CIA "black sites" prior to their arrival at Guantánamo in September 2006 -- Abu Faraj al-Libi (captured in Pakistan in May 2005), the Indonesian Hambali and two alleged associates, Mohd Farik bin Amin and Bashir bin Lap (captured in Thailand in 2003), and Haroon al-Afghani, who arrived at Guantánamo in 2007. Also on the list are a number of other men held in "black sites" and transferred to Guantánamo in September 2004 -- Sanad al-Kazimi and Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, Hassan bin Attash (the brother of Walid bin Attash, who was just 17 when he was seized in Pakistan in September 2002 and rendered for torture in Jordan), the brothers Abdul and Mohammed Rabbani (also seized in Pakistan in September 2002) -- and Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman seized in Thailand in 2003.
Others of note are Mohamedou Ould Slahi, another torture victim, who, despite being hyped as an al-Qaeda member, had his habeas corpus petition granted in 2010, Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian whose lawyers are seeking his release because he is very ill, Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian who is trying to get charged so he might be able to be released, Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian in Guantánamo, and Obaidullah, an insignificant Afghan, wrongly accused of being an insurgent, who nevertheless was put forward for a trial by military commission.
The identities of the 71 men are now known, and I have added the information to our prisoner list, but it is of little help to them. The first Periodic Review Board took place in October, and the second in January, and although the first PRB led to a recommendation for the release of the man in question, Mahmoud al-Mujahid, a Yemeni, he only joins the 76 other prisoners, cleared for release by the task force, who are still held.
And of course, with each PRB only taking place every three months, it will take until 2031, at this rate, for all the PRBs to be completed.
The message, then, must be for the Obama administration to release the prisoners already cleared for release, and to speed up significantly the process of conducting the Periodic Review Boards.