Ten Yemenis cleared for release from Guantánamo by President Barack Obama’s review task force were transferred to Oman. It was the largest transfer of captives since Obama was first elected.
As first reported today by the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, the Pentagon released: Fahd Abdullah Ahmed Ghazy, Samir al Hassan Moqbel, Said Muhammed Salih Hatim, Mohammad Said S Bin Salman, Adham Mohammad Ali Awad, Muktar Yahya Najee al Warafi, Abu Bakr Alahdal, Muhammad Salah Hussain al Shaykh, Umar Said Salim al-Dini, and Fahmi Ahmed al Tulaqi.
“Almost 14 years ago to the day, Fahd arrived at Guantánamo as a boy, shackled and hooded. Today, finally, he is free. I commend Oman for the profound humanitarian gesture of welcoming Fahd and offering him a new home,” said Omar Farah of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who was Ghazy’s attorney.
“There was never much doubt that Fahd’s imprisonment was unnecessary. He was cleared for release nearly a decade ago, yet he grew up at Guantánamo waiting for successive presidents to correct a glaring injustice. While Fahd and his family look to the future, I cannot help but reflect on how cruel his detention was and marvel at how Fahd preserved his humanity throughout.”
Ghazy was cleared for release twice—once by President George W. Bush in 2007 and then by the Obama administration in 2009. He was represented by an attorney from the Center for Constitutional Rights, and his story was profiled the subject of a short film, “Waiting for Fahd.”
He was sent to Guantánamo when he was 17. “Here, at Guantánamo, I am never heard. I am only ignored. In 13 years of imprisonment without charge, I’ve never been able to tell anyone who I really am,” Ghazy declared in 2014.
While imprisoned at Guantánamo, Ghazy endured the “sudden death” of his uncle, who became like a father to him after his own father died. His uncle was a teacher and mentor. His uncle could not bring himself to participate in prison calls with Ghazy when he spoke with family. Finally, one day, his uncle agreed to accept a video call. He said, “We are waiting for you. We will keep waiting for you,” and then died during the call.
“He stopped talking and his head fell back. My family rushed to support him and the line cut. I sat in silence, shackled in my chair, helpless,” Ghazy shared.
Samir Moqbel’s case gained wide attention when an op-ed he wrote, “Gitmo Is Killing Me,” was published by The New York Times in April 2013 during the height of a massive hunger strike. He was participating in the hunger strike, and the prison was force-feeding him.
“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone,” Moqbel shared.
He asserted, “The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.” He said he was willing to submit to any “security measure” his government would impose, if only he could go home and see his family again.
He recently wrote to Reprieve, the legal organization which represented him, about what he feared may have happened to his family as a result of the war in Yemen.
“I am very worried about my family. I saw the rubble of what remains of my home town, and I cannot help worrying.” He added, “I cannot wait to get out and start my life again. I want to get a job, get married, and establish new roots […] I really want to be productive and work for myself.”
While requesting consular assistance after having his passport stolen, Moqbel was abducted on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. He was rendered to Guantánamo in January 2002 on the first plane which delivered captives to the facility.
Hatim was held without charge for nearly 14 years. A United States federal judge ruled in 2010 that his detention was unlawful and ordered his release.
Judge Ricardo Urbina declared, “The government’s allegations rest almost entirely upon admissions made by the petition himself, admissions that the petitioner contends he made only because he had previously been tortured while in U.S. custody.”
Hatim’s father died while he was imprisoned at Guantánamo, and Hatim wanted to get home to care for his elderly mother. But the Obama administration appealed the ruling, and a federal appeals court vacated the decision in 2011.
The policy of searching the genitals of any captive, who wanted to have a meeting with their attorney, was challenged by Hatim. A federal judge deemed “searching the genitals” of captives “up to four times for every phone call or attorney–client meeting” was “excessive.”
However, the Obama administration also appealed this decision and won a reversal of the decision issued against the policy.
In February, Muktar Warafi urged [PDF] a federal court to order his release because President Obama declared combat operations in Afghanistan were over.
Judge Royce Lamberth ruled [PDF] in the government’s favor and concluded, “A court cannot look to political speeches alone to determine factual and legal realities merely because doing so would be easier than looking at all the relevant evidence.”
Warafi traveled to Afghanistan in August 2001 and worked in clinics and a hospital. He was captured by the Northern Alliance in November and handed over to the U.S. military, which transferred him to Guantánamo in 2002. He requested a federal court declare his detention unlawful in 2004 and claimed that, as a medic, even if he was part of the Taliban as the U.S. alleged, he would be protected by the First Geneva Convention. But a federal court refused to recognize Warafi as medical personnel because he “did not possess a medical armlet or identification card when captured.”
Mohammad Salman, Adham Awad, Abu Alahdal, Muhammad Shaykh, Umar al Dini, and Fahmi al Tulaqi were each cleared for release by Obama but forced to endure “conditional detention” because of their Yemeni nationality.
In particular, Salman was cleared for release by an Administrative Review Board in 2005. A 2004 assessment published by WikiLeaks also shows the military once wanted to release him into the custody of another country because of his resistance to guards and the belief that he was “withholding information of higher value” from interrogators.
The transfer of ten captives to Oman, as Rosenberg pointed out, was “more typical of the Bush years, which at least six times released double digit numbers of detainees, typically to Saudi Arabia.” And now, Oman has resettled more captives held at Guantánamo than any of the other 24 nations which have accepted detainees.
Currently, the Obama administration continues to engage in efforts to thwart a court order to release tapes showing the force-feeding of a former Guantánamo captive.
There are now 93 captives in detention, 34 of which are approved for release. A number of the other captives are “forever prisoners,” meaning the Obama administration has no intention of charging them with any crimes but the administration contends they are too dangerous to be released.
President Barack Obama reiterated his administration’s supposed commitment to closing Guantánamo in his “State of the Union” address. This seems to happen with more frequency as it becomes more and more apparent the prison will not be closed.
“If the president is truly serious about making progress towards closure of the prison, he should begin by instructing the Justice Department to concede that release is appropriate in court cases filed by cleared men, including our own client Tariq Ba Odah,” the Center for Constitutional Rights recently stated. “That would allow him to release cleared men without violating Congress’ onerous transfer restrictions, which currently require approvals that have been notoriously slow in coming from the Pentagon.”
CCR also pointed to what they described as a “far greater problem,” which is that the Obama administration still plans to close Guantánamo simply by moving the remaining men to one or more prisons in the United States, “allowing the system of detention without charge to go on indefinitely.”
“That is not ‘closure’ of Guantánamo in any meaningful sense, and as long as it remains the president’s plan, no amount of frantic maneuvering this year will allow him to truly accomplish what he promised when he first ran for president,” CCR concluded.