13 April 2021
Twenty years after 9/11 and the War on Terror, many questions remain unanswered.
The rhetoric of exporting an American version of democracy has in fact left us with the erosion of global citizenship, while the arbitrary deprivation of freedoms and rights has become the new normal.
The Polis Project and CAGE are thrilled to announce a joint reflection to understand the present through the events of the last twenty years. In dialogue with the communities who are most affected by the Islamophobia and racialization of terror that followed 9/11, we plan a series of publications, conversations, and online public events to make boarder political connections between the significance of political prisoners and the history of criminalization of dissent.
As part of our collaboration, between April and September 2021 we’ll publish the profiles of the forever prisoners, the forty men who are still kept with no charge or trial in the American military detention camp in Guantánamo.
Seven former prisoners – who are now accomplished authors and public figures – wrote an open letter to the President of the United States Joe Biden requesting the closure of Guantánamo and recommending a roadmap for it.
We write to you as former prisoners of the United States held without charge or trial at the military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay who have written books about our experiences.
First, we welcome your presidential orders to reverse many unjust and problematic decisions made by your predecessor. We appreciate your repeal of the “Muslim ban,” which will now allow nationals from the Muslim-majority countries previously targeted into the United States, therefore bringing relief to families torn apart by this order.
Despite some positive developments, including the repeal of the Muslim ban, there is another deeply flawed and unjust process that has continued through five US presidential administrations spanning two decades: Guantánamo Bay prison. Guantánamo Bay has existed for over nineteen years and was built to house an exclusively Muslim male population.
We understand that your faith is important to you and helps to guide your vision of social justice. During our incarceration, we often reflected on the story of the Prophet Joseph (Yusuf) in the Quran and his years of wrongful imprisonment. It’s the same story in the Bible and one that reminds us that justice is not only divine, but timeless. That is why we are writing to you.
Although most of us were released under President Bush, everyone was hopeful that President Obama would follow through with his executive order to close Guantánamo in 2009. While some of us were released under Obama, however, it became clear during his tenure as president that ending imprisonment at Guantánamo was not a promise he could fulfill.
Many of us were abducted from our homes, in front of our families, and sold for bounties to the US by nations that cared little for the rule of law. We were rendered to countries where we were physically and psychologically tortured in addition to suffering racial and religious discrimination in US custody—even before we arrived at Guantánamo.
Some of us had children who were born in our absence and grew up without fathers. Others experienced the pain of learning that our close relatives died back home waiting in vain for news of our return. Waiting in vain for justice.
Most of the prisoners currently or presently detained at Guantánamo have never been to the United States. This means that our image of your country has been shaped by our experiences at Guantánamo—in other words, we have only been witnesses to its dark side.
Considering the violence that has happened at Guantánamo, we are sure that after more than nineteen years, you agree that imprisoning people indefinitely without trial while subjecting them to torture, cruelty and degrading treatment, with no meaningful access to families or proper legal systems, is the height of injustice. That is why imprisonment at Guantánamo must end.
There are only forty prisoners left in Guantánamo. We are told that the cost of each prisoner is $13 million per annum. That means that the United States spends $520 million a year on imprisoning men who will never be charged or convicted in a US court. Aside from the moral, legal, and public relations disaster that is Guantánamo, some of this money could be easily spent on programs to resettle prisoners and help them to rebuild their lives.
President Bush opened it. President Obama promised to close it, but failed to do so. President Trump promised to keep it open. It is now your turn to shape your legacy with regards to Guantánamo.
At your inauguration, you told the world: “We will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era. We will rise to the occasion.” It is therefore our suggestion that the following steps are taken to close Guantánamo:
- All those cleared for release are immediately repatriated to their home countries, as long as they are safe from arbitrary imprisonment and persecution.
- The office for the special envoy is reopened and suitable countries are sought to restart the resettlement process for those unable to return to their homes.
- Appropriate measures are taken to ensure that former prisoners are granted the means to start a meaningful life in the new country and are afforded protections from violations of those measures by the receiving state.
- The concept of “forever prisoners” is rescinded, and those not facing charges under the military commissions are repatriated or resettled (as above) following appropriate security arrangements.
- Repatriation/resettlement should not take place by force, and prisoners are not resettled where they will face arbitrary imprisonment once again.
- Periodic Review Board reports should be superseded by the imperative to close Guantánamo and not obstruct the above measures.
- The military commissions should be scrapped, and those facing charges should have their cases tried in accordance with the law.
- Where appropriate and practicable, mechanisms are put in place whereby those convicted of crimes can serve their sentences closer to home.
Guantánamo causes deep distrust in what America says and stands for. Prisoners from forty-nine different countries once occupied Guantánamo’s cells. Those prisoners look to America as a nation of laws and freedoms and see little of either. For two decades, the world has observed Guantánamo and noted that it is a bipartisan project, carried out by both Republicans and Democrats. That is what you must contend with and change.
Despite the abuses, after detention, many of us befriended and welcomed into our homes former US soldiers who guarded us. We’ve always believed there was another way.
During your tenure as vice president, America freed senior Taliban leaders from Guantánamo. Today, they head negotiations with top US officials to bring about peace in Afghanistan. During your inauguration speech you said, “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.” We agree. In fact, as Obama once said, Guantánamo “should never have opened.” We believe you can close Guantánamo before its looming twentieth anniversary.
It is our sincere hope that you do.
The signatories of the open letter are:
Mansoor Adayfi is a Yemeni national who was tortured imprisoned for 14 years without charge or trial in Guantanamo. He was resettled to Serbia in 2016. Since then, he has written articles that have appeared in the New York Times that discuss life and art in Guantanamo. Mansoor has also written a book Don’t Forget US Here which will be released in August.
Moazzam Begg, a British citizen who was tortured and imprisoned without charge at Bagram and Guantánamo for three years. He is a UK-based author and the outreach director for CAGE, a group that campaigns on behalf of survivors of injustices committed in the name of the War on Terror. His book is called Enemy Combatant.
Lakhdar Boumediane is an Algerian-born citizen of Bosnia who was held and tortured at Guantanamo for seven years without trial. His case in the US Supreme court, Boumediene v Bush (2008) granted Guantanamo prisoners the right to file writs of habeas corpus in U.S. courts. He was resettled in France in 2008 where co-authored his experiences of Guantanamo – with another former Guantanamo prisoner – entitled Witnesses to the Unseen.
Sami Al Hajj is a Sudanese citizen who was tortured and imprisoned without trial in Guantanamo for 7 years. He was detained by the US while working as a correspondent for the Al Jazeera news channel. Shortly after his release, Sami rejoined Al Jazeera as its head of human rights and public liberties in Qatar. He also authored a book (in Arabic), Guantanamo: My Story
Ahmed Errachidi is a Moroccan citizen who was held in extrajudicial detention at Guantanamo for five years. Five years after his release, Ahmed wrote a book entitled The General: The ordinary man who challenged Guantanamo which told the story of his life and incarceration.
Mohammed Ould Slahi is a Mauritanian national who was imprisoned without trial at Guantanamo for 14 years. His book, Guantanamo Diary, became a best-seller during his years of incarceration and despite heavy redactions by the US military. Following his release in 2016, Mohamedou’s story was depicted in the hit-film, The Mauritanian which was nominated for 5 BAFTAs. The unredacted version of his book was republished under the same title.
Moussa Zemmouri is a Belgian citizen of Morrocan origin who was tortured and imprisoned in Guantanamo for three years without charge. Moussa is a renowned reciter of the Quran within the local Muslim community. In 2008, he authored his prison memoir (in Dutch), Innocent in Guantanamo.
Letter originally published here.
Ghassan al-Sharbi – Prisoner number 682
Ghassan al-Sharbi was taken into extrajudicial custody in 2002. Al-Sharbi, who is originally from Saudi Arabia was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Serious charges against al-Sharbi were dropped, when it came to light that he had been tortured into giving a false confession.
Abdul Latif Nasir – Prisoner number 244
Abdul Latif Nasir is a Moroccon citizen who is held in extra-judicial custody despite no official charges against him. The torture he endured while in captivity, is well documented. Nasir attempted to file a request, during the last days of the Obama administration, to be transferred out of the Guantanamo facility, however was unable to secure release by the time Donald Trump assumed the presidency.
Ali Hamza Al Bahlul – Prisoner number 39
Ali Hamza Al Bahlul is a Yemeni who was taken into custody for presumably being a military combatant. Al Bahlul was implicated for supposedly being connected to Osama Bin Laden, but most charges against him were dropped in 2013. He was, however, convicted of participation in a criminal conspiracy, and his request to appeal the decision was denied. Al Bahlul is subject to torture in the United States captivity.
Abdul Razzak Ali – Prisoner number 685
Abdul Razzak Ali is an Algerian citizen held in extrajudicial custody at the Guantanamo since 2002, without charge. Ali was taken captive in Pakistan and has testified to being subjected to torture by American authorities. Ali is one of 11 prisoners who filed a major legal challenge against Trump’s Guantánamo policies in January 2018.
Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman – Prisoner number 27
Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman is a Yemeni citizen who was taken into custody by American authorities in the Af-Pak region. Uthman was reportedly tortured while in custody. With no release date in sight, Uthman has now spent nineteen years at the Guantánamo facility.
Ridah Bin Saleh Al Azidi – Prisoner number 38
Ridah Bin Saleh Al Azidi is a Tunisian citizen who was taken into custody from the Af-Pak region. Azidi has been detained in the Guantánamo facility since 2001, and has suffered torture during his time there. Azidi was one of the prisoners whose release was ordered towards the end of the Obama administration. However, his freedom was not secured by the time Donald Trump took office, and the order was subsequently reversed.
Tawfiq Al Bihani – Prisoner number 893
Tawfiq Al Bihani is a citizen of Saudi Arabia who was abducted by the American authorities on Pakistani soil. Al Bihani was taken into custody in 2002, and has now spent over 18 years in the Guantánamo facility without charge. Al Bihani’s experience of torture while in detention is well documented.
Muieen Adeen Al Sattar – Prisoner number 309
Muieen Adeen Al Sattar is a Pakistani citizen who was taken into custody by the American authorities on Pakistani soil in 2001. Al Sattar endured torture while in detention at the Guantánamo facility. His transfer out of the facility was ordered by the Obama administration, however, the decision was revered under the Trump presidency.
Omar Mohammad – Prisoner number 1017
Omar Mohammad is a Yemeni citizen who has been detained at the Guantanamo facility since 2003. Mohammad was taken into custody in Georgia. His torture at the hands of American authorities during his imprisonment is well documented. His appeal for freedom was denied by the Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010.
Ismael Ali Faraj – Prisoner number 708
Ismael Ali Faraj is a Libyan citizen who was seized by American authorities on Pakistani soil back in 2002. Faraj is subjected to torture while in custody at the Guantanamo facility. His appeal for freedom was denied by the Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010.
Hani Saleh Rashid – Prisoner number 841
Hani Saleh Rashid is a Yemeni citizen, who was abducted from Pakistani soil and has been held in extrajudicial custody at the Guantanamo prison since 2002. Despite being cleared for release during the Trump presidency, Rashid remains in captivity.
Mohammad Al Qahtani – Prisoner number 63
Mohammad Al Qahtani is a Saudi citizen who was abducted from Pakistan in 2002 and was taken to the Guantanamo facility. Qahtani was only 22 years old at the time. American authorities admitted to torturing him and the damage done to Qahtani’s physical and mental health is well documented. All charges against Qahtani were dropped in 2008, yet he continues to be held captive.
CAGE is an independent grassroots organization that advocates for due process, the rule of law and an end to the injustices of the War on Terror. They campaign against discriminatory state policies and advocate for due process and the rule of law. They work closely with survivors across the globe, documenting their abuse and enabling them to take action and access due process.