After seven and a half years of researching and writing about the prisoners held in the "war on terror" prison at Guantánamo Bay, it’s always refreshing to hear from former prisoners — and, in many cases, to see their faces and hear their voices for the very first time.
The highlights of "Life After Guantánamo," Al-Jazeera America’s newly released documentary about Guantánamo (available below, via YouTube) are interviews with two released Yemeni prisoners, Mohammed Hassan Odaini (freed in July 2010), and Farouq Ali Ahmed (freed in December 2009). I told the story of Ahmed, the victim of two notoriously false allegations made by other prisoners, in an article following his release, and I told the story of Odaini, an innocent student seized in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002, in a series of articles between May 2010, when he had his habeas corpus petition granted, and his release 48 days later (see here, here and here).
At the time, it was clear to me that both men were palpably innocent, and seeing and hearing them now only confirms it. Both are charming and articulate, working, married, and expecting their first children, and, importantly, neither man even remotely fulfils American fears that released Yemenis will "return to the battlefield."
This outrageous smear originated under the Bush administration, when only 15 of the 115 or so Yemenis held at Guantánamo were released, even through deals were eventually made to repatriate the majority of the Saudi prisoners, whose stories, numbers and circumstances were more or less the same. Under Obama, an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force appeared to recognize this injustice, approving the release of around two-thirds of the remaining Yemeni prisoners, along with dozens of prisoners from other countries.
Unfortunately, just seven cleared Yemeni prisoners were released under President Obama before a failed bomb plot, involving a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen, and a plane bound for Detroit, led to a hysterical backlash against releasing Yemeni prisoners. Since then, just one Yemeni — Mohammed Hassan Odaini — has been released. This remains the case, even though, in May this year, President Obama dropped a ban on releasing Yemenis that he imposed following the failed bomb plot, stating, in a major speech on national security, "I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis."
Even though President Obama has just released two Algerian prisoners, overcoming obstacles raised by Congress that have prevented the release of prisoners for the last few years, he has not, to date, released any Yemenis, and the program is to be congratulated for highlighting what can only be regarded as the ongoing and unacceptable injustice of continuing to hold men cleared for release — and the Yemenis in particular.
Just to make the facts clear, 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners were cleared for release by the task force, and 56 of them are Yemenis.
As well as featuring interviews with Mohammed Hassan Odaini and Farouq Ali Ahmed (and surprising Donald Rumsfeld at his summer house), the program, presented by Wab Kinew, also deals with the tragedy of Adnan Latif, a cleared Yemeni prisoner who died at Guantánamo almost exactly a year ago (on September 8, 2012), and also looks at the stories of two men still held, Hayil al-Maythali (aka al-Mithali) and Abdulsalam al-Hila (aka al-Hela). Despite a lack of evidence establishing that either man constitutes a threat to the US, they have not been cleared for release, and, in fact, they were both recommended for continued detention by the task force, in a document that was only made available in June this year.
The program looked at the campaigns to release them in Yemen, pointing out how much popular support there is for freeing them, in contrast to the poisonous black propaganda still emanating from the US, and overall I felt that the program did a great job of providing important information both for those of us engaged in the ongoing struggle to close Guantánamo, and for those coming to it for the first time. I hope you have the time to watch it, and to share it widely.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the "Close Guantánamo" campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
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