EXCLUSIVE: Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago
This investigative report is published simultaneously here, and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.(here) ACT AND JOIN THE PROTEST !
One of the greatest injustices at Guantánamo is that, of the 169 prisoners still held, over half — 87 in total — were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force. The Task Force involved around 60 career officials from various government departments and the intelligence agencies, who spent the first year of the Obama Presidency reviewing the cases of all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo, to decide whether they should be tried, released, or, in some cases, held indefinitely without charge or trial. The Task Force’s final report is here (PDF).
Exactly who these 87 men are is a closely held secret on the part of the administration, which is unfortunate for those of us working towards the closure of Guantánamo, as it prevents us from campaigning as effectively as we would like for the majority of these men, given that we are not entirely sure of their status. Attorneys for the prisoners have been told about their clients’ status, but that information — as with so much involving Guantánamo — is classified.
However, through recent research — into the classified military files about the Guantánamo prisoners, compiled by the Joint Task Force at the prison, which were released last year by WikiLeaks, as well asdocuments made available by the Bush administration, along with some additional information from the years of the Obama administration — I have been able to establish the identities of 40 men — 23 Yemenis, and 17 from other countries — who, between 2004 and 2009, were cleared for release by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, by military review boards under the Bush administration, or by President Obama’s Task Force, and to identify the official documents in which these decisions were noted.
The Task Force recommended 126 prisoners for release, including 29 Yemenis, and created a category of “conditional detention” for 30 more Yemenis, claiming that they could be held until the security situation in Yemen improved. However, as a result of the hysteria that greeted the news that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen who tried and failed to detonate a bomb in his underwear on a flight into the US on Christmas Day 2009, had been recruited in Yemen, President Obama issued a moratorium on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo in January 2010. This is still in place nearly two and a half years later, even though no connection has been made between the Yemenis cleared for release from Guantánamo, and the al-Qaeda offshoot in Yemen — al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — that apparently recruited Abdulmutallab.
Of the 156 prisoners cleared for release by President Obama’s Task Force, 69 have been released since President Obama took office. The majority of the 40 men identified through my research were cleared during the Bush administration, between 2004 and 2008, but although it is possible that some of them subsequently had the recommendations for their release withdrawn, it is, I believe, fair to assume that the majority did not, and that the Task Force largely concurred with the decisions made by military review boards under the Bush administration.
As a result, I believe it is fair to say that the 40 names that I have identified clarify who has been cleared for release to a greater extent than has previously been revealed.
Please also note that 35 Yemenis and 12 others remain to be identified, to make the figure of 87 identified in the Guantánamo Review Task Force’s report in January 2010.
What this analysis makes clear is that almost a quarter of the prisoners still held at Guantánamo — men that the US government acknowledges it does not want to continue holding, or to put on trial — have been waiting for their freedom for between four and eight years, a statistic that ought to shock anyone concerned with fairness and justice. It is a profound disgrace that these men are still held, and three courses of action need to be implemented as soon as possible:
- Dropping the moratorium of January 2010 and releasing the 28 Yemenis cleared for immediate release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009;
- Urgently resuming the search for new homes in other countries for other cleared prisoners who cannot be safely repatriated; and
- If this is not feasible, releasing those who cannot be repatriated into the United States, to resume their lives in the country that has been responsible for continuing to hold them, even when cleared for release.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington