President Barack Obama stated in a speech in May of last year that he was lifting a “moratorium on detainee transfers” from Guantanamo Bay to Yemen so his administration could review each prisoner on a “case-by-case basis.”
“To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries,” Obama said. However, just over a year later, not a single Yemeni prisoner has been freed. The number of Yemenis in detention at Guantanamo Bay, who are cleared for release, is still 57.
These men have been cleared for release by President Obama’s own inter-agency review task force yet they cannot be transferred out because the administration still is treating them as a “country bloc.” In other words, they are being subjected to further punishment because of their nationality and events that are unfolding in Yemen, which are entirely beyond their control.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) represents three prisoners who have been cleared for release: Fahd Ghazy, Tariq Ba Odah and Mohammed al-Hamiri. CCR also represents Ghaleb al-Bihani, who is a “forever prisoner” and has not been cleared for release. He recently had a periodic review board (PRB) status hearing on April 8 and is waiting for a decision.
CCR staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei told Firedoglake that the problem at the moment is the Obama administration still isn’t treating these men as individuals. His self-imposed ban on transferring detainees to Yemen no longer exists. A congressional restriction in place has been removed. The administration “has the authority that it needs legally to be able to transfer people.”
Yet, one fundamental issue is how this premise that “the people at Guantanamo were all involved in some way” with al Qaeda or terrorism against the United States still persists. Kebriaei said that is not true in the sense that they never participated in fighting or have been a “part of an armed conflict.” There should be no “fear of return to the battlefield” for these men.
In recent years, according to the Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) recent review, the rate of alleged “recidivism” has dropped dramatically. That is likely due to the fact that DNI has changed the criteria for what constitutes recidivism. But the DNI still maintains that “transfers to countries with ongoing conflicts and internal instability as well as active recruitment and terrorist organizations pose a particular problem.”
There is reason to be skeptical of these figures. Much of the information is based on classified government reports, which the public does not get to read.
“We don’t have all the details to be able to actually check who the government is talking about, what those acts of recidivism are. We have no way of being able to meaningfully evaluate those conclusions,” Kebriaei asserted.
According to Kebriaei, the DC Circuit Court has played a role in making it more difficult for prisoners to leave Guantanamo. They have “legally sanctioned” the men’s continued detention on the “basis of distortion of law.” There are also some cases, which have been stayed and not resolved legally, because the “current rules are so bad.”
CCR’s Yemeni clients have spent a third of their life in detention without being charged with any crime.
Ghazy turned 30 years-old on May 2. He has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for twelve years. He was a juvenile when he was brought to the prison after being captured in Pakistan. He was cleared for release by President George W. Bush in 2007 and then cleared for release a second time in 2009. He participated in the massive hunger strike at the prison last year because Obama’s failure to free him has left him feeling nothing but painful anguish.
Odah is force-fed every day, as he has been on hunger strike since 2007.
According to CCR, “Guantánamo prison authorities have isolated Mr. Ba Odah from the other prisoners because they deem his 6-yr-long peaceful hunger strike as ‘non-compliance.’ They have been holding him in solitary-confinement like conditions in Camp 5. Mr. Ba Odah is only permitted to be outside of his cell for 2-4 hours per day. Unfortunately, he is often too weak to take advantage of the recreation time that is allotted to him so he instead practices walking in his small cell. He has virtually no human contact.”
Odah said he weighed 90 pounds in April 2013. No independent medical professional has been able to assess the impact of this long-term hunger strike on his body.
Like many of the prisoners cleared for release, he remains resolute in his commitment to eventually be free again.
“A captive does not possess any realistic means to send his messages to the world other than to strike. . . Freedom should be much more precious for the human being than all the desires on earth. And we should never give it up regardless of how expensive the price may be,” Odah declared in April of last year.
CCR produced this video to call attention to the Yemeni prisoners cleared for release: