by Andy Worthington
11 October 2009
So it’s good news — of a sort — from Guantánamo, as two more prisoners were released on Thursday. The first is Khalid al-Mutairi, a Kuwaiti whose habeas corpus petition was granted by District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly two months ago, after she ruled decisively that “there is nothing in the record beyond speculation” that al-Mutairi had been involved in any way with al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
Although Judge Kollar-Kotelly ordered the government to “take all necessary and appropriate steps to facilitate” al-Mutairi’s release “forthwith,” one of his attorneys, David Cynamon explained to me recently that “the Justice Department is completely ignoring the habeas rulings issued by the Courts,” and added that he had to threaten a contempt motion in al-Mutairi’s case, in order to get the government to agree to his repatriation, even though the Kuwaiti government has repeatedly asked for his return.
In a sign of the paranoia that dominates the Obama administration’s thinking when it comes to actually releasing prisoners who have been cleared for release (as I discussed in a recent article, “75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today”), the Miami Herald explained that al-Mutairi would be the first returned Kuwaiti to be processed, on his return, in a rehabilitation center “designed to help men jailed for years as jihadists reenter society in the oil-rich emirate.” In a statement, which, to my mind, appeared to respond carefully to the kind of assurances demanded, with no justification, by the Obama administration, a Kuwaiti support group, which has been acting for the Guantánamo prisoners for many years, announced, “The new facility will provide detainees with access to education, medical care, group discussions and physical exercise to help them recover from their long ordeal in Guantánamo.”
Al-Mutairi’s return was, of course, long overdue, as David Cynamon explained, when he told the Associated Press, “It took far too long — more than seven years — to get a fair hearing,” adding, “He lost many years of his life because the US government fought against giving fair hearings to these detainees.” However, his release was clouded by the government’s refusal to also return Fouad al-Rabiah, another Kuwaiti, cleared by a court three weeks ago, whose story, as revealed by Judge Kollar-Kotelly in her ruling, laid bare the awful truth that, although he, like al-Mutairi, was a charity worker seized by mistake, he had been tortured in Guantánamo to falsely confess that he had met Osama bin Laden and had worked with al-Qaeda during the battle of Tora Bora.
If justice was not treated by the Obama administration in such a cavalier manner, Fouad al-Rabiah would have been in the Kuwaiti plane that flew to Guantánamo to pick up Khalid al-Mutairi, returning to his wife and children after eight long years, and I hope — for his sake, and for what little remains of the credibility of the Obama administration when it comes to the habeas rulings (in which 30 out of 38 cases brought by the government have been lost) — that his release will be announced in the very near future, and that there is no truth to the Miami Herald’s disturbing statement that both the Justice Department and the Defense Department “are still studying his file to decide whether to appeal to another civilian court rather than let him go.”
The identity of the other prisoner — released in Belgium — is not known. As the Miami Herald explained, he was “pointedly not identified” on arrival at the military airport in Melsbroek, and, in a statement, the Belgian foreign ministry “urged the media to protect his privacy,” noting that he was “being offered an opportunity to integrate into Belgian society ‘after a particularly difficult time in Guantánamo,’” and emphasizing that, although his nationality was not being identified in a further effort to protect his identity, he “had been cleared of charges by a US court.”
“He comes to Belgium as a free man,” the statement continued, adding that “all the necessary measures for adaptation and rapid integration are being provided.” According to another source, the man will actually be given a new identity on Belgium, to facilitate his prospects of finding a job, and, although I suspect that I know who he is — as there are only a few prisoners cleared by the courts who are seeking asylum in Europe — I will respect the Belgian government’s wishes and not advance my theory in public.
For this man, as for Khalid al-Mutairi, his release is long overdue (as a judge urged the government to take steps to release him “forthwith” up to six months ago), but, as with Fouad al-Rabiah, who remained behind while al-Mutairi was repatriated, it should not be forgotten that 15 other men, cleared by the courts up to a year ago, are also still in Guantánamo, where, it appears, not even a court victory is enough to secure their elusive freedom.
Note: The release of these two men brings the total number of prisoners held at Guantánamo to 222. This figure includes one man, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who is serving a life sentence after a one-sided trial by Military Commission last November (which is currently being appealed — PDF), and does not include another, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, moved from Guantánamo to the US mainland in May this year, who — in a sure sign that prisoners can be transferred to the mainland without endangering anyone — is in a federal prison awaiting a federal court trial scheduled to begin next September.
POSTSCRIPT: Arab Times has just published the following report about Khalid al-Mutairi’s return from Guantánamo:
Tears for Mutairi (an excerpt)
Tears of joy flowed freely when the relatives of detainee Khalid al-Mutairi received him on his arrival into the country from Guantánamo Bay early Friday. The meeting hall, where al-Mutairi was taken on his arrival in Kuwait, was transformed into a venue of celebrations when al-Mutairi reunited with his family after eight years in Guantánamo. The intensity of the reunion, combined with enquiries about al-Mutairi’s experiences and his state of health, compelled officials to extend the “meeting” to 35 minutes. The Chairman of the Relatives of the Kuwaiti Detainees Committee in Guantánamo, Khalid al-Odah [whose son, Fawzi al-Odah, had his habeas petition turned down on August 24], confirmed that al-Mutairi was in good health and no evidence of disease or illness had been observed. He added that al-Mutairi was accompanied by a delegation of security personnel and paramedics from Guantánamo Bay, who ensured that he was physically and mentally fit.
Al-Odah said al-Mutairi spoke about his experience at Guantánamo, revealing that he was detained for one year in a cell with Fawzi Al-Odah and met Fayiz al-Kandari and Fouad al-Rabiah regularly. Al-Mutairi added that he was separated from the others five days ago, after which procedures to return him to Kuwait were finalized. He also reported that the other detainees are in good health. Al-Odah disclosed that al-Mutairi is currently under observation at the Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed Armed Forces Hospital and will be referred to the Rehabilitation Center after a week of routine investigations. It has been reported that the administration of the hospital has appointed only one member of the nursing staff to keep a check on the health of al-Mutairi. Security officers have already begun their investigation procedures. The relatives of al-Mutairi have been given permission to visit him during his stay at the hospital.
Andy Worthington is 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). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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The fact that the US held and tortured these men is beyond terrible, and the fact that they continue to drag their feet after courts have mandated their release is outrageous! I hope the attorneys for all these men are suing for damages in civil court. They deserve to be well compensated for what they’ve gone through, yet no compensation can ever hope to give them back the lost years of their lives.