End 22 Years Of Injustice

Held for 850 Days Since Being Approved for Release from Guantánamo: Suhayl Al-Sharabi and Guled Hassan Duran

Suhayl al-Sharabi, in a photo included in his classified military file from 2008, and Guled Hassan Duran, in a more recent photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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By Andy Worthington, March 10, 2024

Yesterday, March 9, marked 850 days since two prisoners at Guantánamo, Suhayl al-Sharabi, a Yemeni, and Guled Hassan Duran, a Somali, were unanimously approved for release by a high-level U.S. government review process — on November 10, 2021.

In a sane and just world, no one would continue to be imprisoned over two years after they were approved for release, especially as the men in question were never even charged with a crime, but at Guantánamo sanity and justice count for nothing, and not only have these two men not been freed; they also have no idea when, if ever, the day of their freedom might come to pass.

The reason for this is because, like 14 other men held in the same predicament, the decisions to approve the release of Suhayl al-Sharabi and Guled Hassan Duran were purely administrative, taken by a parole-type review board, the Periodic Review Boards, which was established by President Obama in 2013. Because the decisions were purely administrative, neither al-Sharabi or Duran, or their lawyers, can ask a judge to order their release, if, as is more and more apparent with every passing day, the Biden administration seems to have no inclination to prioritize their release.

Below, I tell the stories of these two men, in what is the sixth article in a series of ten articles telling the stories of these 16 men, shamelessly abandoned by the U.S. government, even after promising them their freedom. The five articles to date have been published alternately here and on my website, and you can read them all here: the first, the second, the third, the fourth and the fifth. All of the articles tie the men’s stories into significant milestones in their long wait for freedom, and the remaining articles will be published in the coming weeks.

I hope that they provoke anger and indignation at this latest phase in the by-now casual inhumanity of Guantánamo, and that you’ll share them if you can, and do whatever you can to publicize this latest and almost entirely unknown scandal plaguing the lawless prison that, over its miserable 22-year existence, has lurched from one scandal to another — some known, but many others ignored or forgotten about, in the amnesia that so persistently swallows any kind of awareness of the enduring lawlessness of the U.S.’s gulag in the Caribbean.

The story of Suhayl al-Sharabi

Suhayl al-Sharabi (ISN 569), also identified by the U.S. authorities as Zuhail al-Sharabi, or Zohair al-Shorabi, is a 46- or 47-year old Yemeni, who has been held at Guantánamo, without charge or trial, since May 5, 2002.

He was seized in one of several house raids in Karachi, Pakistan on February 7, 2002, with 15 other men (Yemenis, Saudis and Kuwaitis) who, with one exception, were transferred to Guantánamo three months later, and have all been released (some as early as 2005, and the rest during President Obama’s second term in office). The exception is Sharqawi al-Hajj (ISN 1457), a Yemeni regarded as an Al-Qaeda facilitator, who was sent to be tortured in Jordan for two years, and then in Afghanistan for another six months, before arriving at Guantánamo in September 2004. Al-Hajj has also been approved for release (in June 2021), and I told his story in an article last week, when he had been held for 1,000 days since that decision was taken.

As the U.S. authorities tried and failed to establish that these men were anything more than foot soldiers for the Taliban, who had gone to Afghanistan to support the Taliban in their long-running civil war with the Northern Alliance, before the 9/11 attacks, and who had subsequently fled to Pakistan as they tried to make their way home, al-Sharabi was singled out for particular scrutiny, largely, it seems, because of unverified suspicions that he "was designated, trained, and prepared to carry out a suicide operation in Southeast Asia," as was alleged in his classified military file from November 2008, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, but also because of similarly unfounded claims that he was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.

Noticeably, however, the file also indicated that this particular plot was canceled by bin Laden because he "did not want it to interfere with the planned 11 September 2001 attacks," and it is also significant that three other Guantánamo prisoners who were allegedly part of this supposed plot have also been freed, rather undermining its supposed significance.

Never charged during the Bush administration, al-Sharabi was, nevertheless, recommended for prosecution in the military commission trial system by the high-level, interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force assembled by President Obama after he took office in January 2009, to assess the significance of the 240 prisoners he had inherited from George W. Bush.

However, as the viability of prosecutions unraveled — largely because Obama, and Bush before him, had ignored the fact that "providing material support for terrorism," the main charge against many of the men proposed for trial, was not actually a war crime, and had only been invented as such by Congress — al-Sharbi was shunted into Obama’s second review process, the Periodic Review Boards, which reviewed the cases of 64 men in total who had been recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, or for unviable prosecutions, by the Task Force.

His first PRB took place in March 2016, but his ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial was approved by the board members soon after, in part because he was perceived as disruptive at Guantánamo, having been a regular hunger striker over many years, in part because he refused to attend his hearing, and in part because of his perceived evasiveness regarding the allegations against him.

His next PRB, in March 2019, was under Donald Trump, when, along with the majority of the men facing PRBs, he boycotted his hearing, having correctly concluded that, under Trump, it had become a sham process. Representatives of Human Rights First attended the hearing, noting that "Al Sharabi and his private counsel refused to attend the hearing, leaving only Al Sharabi’s U.S. government-appointed personal representative to appear before the Board. The hearing lasted less than four minutes."

Finally, however, under President Biden, al-Sharabi was approved for release in November 2021 after his third PRB, in June 2021, when the U.S. authorities finally conceded that his involvement with the supposed Southeast Asia plot was only speculative, and al-Sharabi himself "expressed regret, and a desire for a peaceful life if released," as I explained at the time.

As I also explained, although his own statement wasn’t made publicly available, his Personal Representative (a military official chosen to represent him) explained to the board members that he had "expressed regret for what happened in the past and desire[d] to be re-united with his family to lead a peaceful life, free of trouble," adding, "Based on our interactions, I have not seen any indications that he is a continuing threat to the United States or its allies."

The Personal Representative also noted that al-Sharabi understood that, if he were to be released, "the current situation would not be conducive to his return to Yemen," and indicated that he "would like to go to Oman or [a] similar Arabic country," where he would be "willing to support himself in whatever field becomes available."

In fact, provisions inserted by Republicans into the annual National Defense Authorization Act have, since the early years of Obama’s presidency, prevented the repatriation of any Yemeni prisoners, meaning that a third country must be found that is prepared to offer al-Sharabi a new home — as is the case for the majority of the men approved for release.

However, 850 days after his approval for release, it is frankly unacceptable that the Biden administration has evidently not prioritized his release, or that of the other men, and it is difficult not to conclude that this is not because another country hasn’t been found (since August 2022, a State Department official, Tina Kaidanow, a former ambassador, has been tasked with Guantánamo resettlement issues), but because President Biden doesn’t want to do anything that might upset Republicans, as he seeks their support for arms deals for Ukraine and Israel.

The story of Guled Hassan Duran

Guled Hassan Duran (ISN 10023), identified by the U.S. authorities as Gouled Hassan Dourad, or Guleed Hassan Ahmed, is a 49-year old Somali, and one of 14 "high-value detainees" brought to Guantánamo in September 2006 from CIA "black sites," where he had been held for two and a half years.

While some of these 14 men are accused of involvement in significant terrorist attacks (9/11 and the 2002 bombings in Bali, for example), the rationale for Duran’s inclusion with the "high-value detainees" has never been adequately explained. When the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed met him in the "black sites," apparently, he had no idea who he was.

On arrival at Guantánamo, one-page profiles of the 14 men were made public by the U.S. government, but Duran’s profile suggested only that he was a member of a militant group in Somalia, and had "cased" Camp Lemonier, the U.S.’s secretive military base in Djibouti, for a possible attack by Al-Qaeda in East Africa, with whom he was alleged to have been working. It was also suggested that he had been involved in other "plots" that never materialized.

Born in Mogadishu, he had been sent by his parents to Germany as a refugee after the Somali civil war began in 1991, and had subsequently been granted asylum in Sweden in 1993. After reportedly training in Afghanistan in 1996, he returned to Somalia, where he seems, primarily, to have been concerned with territorial struggles with Ethiopia.

According to a report about ten prisoners still held, which was released last year by his lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, "Guled was captured in March 2004, and disappeared into secret CIA detention, where he was physically and mentally tortured. Most significantly, he was denied urgent medical treatment for an abdominal wound suffered in a street robbery in Mogadishu, Somalia prior to his capture. He was traveling to seek treatment when he was taken into custody, but his captors did not allow him to receive the necessary surgery until years later."

This was corroborated in December 2014, when the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s groundbreaking report about the CIA torture program was released, which noted that he was, as CCR described it, "among a group of 'CIA detainees [who] had care delayed for serious medical issues' while in detention '[d]ue to a lack of adequate medical care at CIA detention sites and the unwillingness of host governments to make hospital facilities available.'"

As CCR also explained in a profile in 2016, throughout his imprisonment in the "black sites," his interrogators "withheld medical care to pressure him to cooperate, including to recruit him as a spy, and to agree to provide more information."

Reinforcing the notion of his insignificance, Duran told his lawyers that "the FBI interrogated him shortly after he arrived [at Guantánamo], but he refused to answer any questions," and "has not been interrogated by anyone since," suggesting that the CIA’s main interest in him may have been the failed attempt to recruit him as a spy, and that, when that failed, he was brought to Guantánamo simply because it was impractical to return him to Somalia.

Certainly, when it came to the deliberations of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, he was not regarded as particularly significant, as he was not recommended for prosecution, but was, instead, one of the 48 prisoners recommended for "further review," which finally took place via the Periodic Review Boards.

Duran’s first PRB took place in August 2016, when his Personal Representatives noted that he bore no ill-will towards the U.S., that he "want[ed] nothing to do with extremism anymore," and "[did] not consider himself to be a threat to anyone," and "want[ed] only to live a peaceful life with his wife and [his four] children," who were living in Kenya.

The board members, however, approved his ongoing imprisonment, and in 2018, when he had another PRB, his detention was again upheld, after he refused to take part in his hearing on the advice of his lawyers, who were seeking, unsuccessfully, to get the the District Court in Washington, D.C. to accept that "he was captured outside of the geographical scope of the government’s detention authority," and that, "whatever the government’s initial justification for detaining Guled may have been in 2006, that justification has since unraveled."

When his third PRB hearing took place, in July 2021, his lawyers provided a detailed submission arguing for his release, noting his "large and close-knit family and support network" in the U.S., Canada and Somalia, who were "willing and able to support him financially, emotionally and in any other way necessary to facilitate his reintegration and adjustment to life after Guantánamo."

Crucially, Duran himself provided a statement, in which he declared, "I do not have any ill-will toward the United States. I never have." He also apologized for sometimes being non-compliant during his long imprisonment without charge or trial, but urged the board members to consider how "[i]t is very frustrating and demoralizing being held for so long when you have no idea when you will be released, and sometimes it boils over."

He insisted, however, that "All I want is just to move on with my life. I want to be reunited with my wife and children. I have lost so much time with them, and it has been very difficult for everyone." He added, "I am willing to be transferred anywhere, under any circumstances, where I can live a quiet life and eventually be reunited with my family. I want to get a job and support them the way I have not been able to for a very long time. I hope your decision will allow me to have a future beyond Guantánamo."

In November 2021, the board members finally approved Duran for release, but, 850 days later, it is disgraceful that he is still held. Sadly, Somalia is on the list of proscribed countries for repatriation from Guantánamo, but it is unacceptable that, having held him for so long (including in CIA "black sites") without ever having had a clear case against him, the U.S. authorities have not — as with all the other men approved for release — prioritized finding a country prepared to offer him a new home, and the chance to rebuild his life.

President Biden and Antony Blinken should be ashamed.

NOTE: For a Spanish version, on the World Can't Wait's website, see "Retenidos 850 días desde que se aprobó su excarcelación de Guantánamo: Suhayl Al-Sharabi y Guled Hassan Duran."