Prior to the inauguration of new US president Joe Biden, the Pentagon took action to prevent an order being enforced that was made by a federal judge in March last year to allow Saudi prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani to have an independent medical examination. The purpose of the examination is to determine his mental health, which was poor when he was captured and arrived at Guantánamo, in order to determine whether it would be better for him to return to Saudi Arabia for psychiatric care. Due to the torture Al-Qahtani suffered in US detention, worsening his schizophrenia and mental health problems, charges against him were dropped and he remains held without charge or trial for over a decade. No independent medical examination has ever taken place at Guantánamo. However, Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy, before leaving office, “signed a two-page memorandum on Monday excluding detainees at Guantánamo from the regulation that was the basis of the court order”. As a result the Justice Department asked for the judge’s order to be thrown out. Joe Biden could reverse this decision. He has yet to take any action over Guantánamo. There are concerns that if Al-Qahtani’s examination goes ahead and he is repatriated, other prisoners may bring similar claims. On the other hand, an independent examination would reveal more about the torture he experienced.
Signalling that there is likely to be little change at Guantánamo under Biden, on 21 January, the Pentagon “announced plans to move ahead with a military trial for three men held at Guantánamo Bay who are suspected of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings”. The trio, from Indonesia and two from Malaysia, are having charges brought against them in this case for third time and a first hearing has been set for 22 February. The Indonesian faces 8 charges and the Malaysians 9 in total. All three were victims of extraordinary rendition and were kidnapped in 2003 and tortured at various CIA secret prisons around the world before arriving at Guantánamo Bay in 2006. Their countries have resisted their repatriation and Obama, in his attempts to empty the detention centre, tried to have the Indonesian, known as Hambali, released for trial to Malaysia where he would face the death penalty. The current charges, however, are non-capital and include conspiracy, murder and terrorism.
Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah is suing the British government (Foreign Office, Home Office and Attorney General) over claims that MI6 were involved in his torture interrogations that emerged in a parliamentary report by the Intelligence and Security Committee in 2019, which stated that in spite of being aware of his torture and illegal detention, the intelligence services kept sending questions to be put to him by their US counterparts up until 2006 at least. Following the 2019 report, a police investigation was launched as it provided sufficient evidence.
Abu Zubaydah was kidnapped in 2002 and tortured at various secret CIA prisons around the world before arriving at Guantánamo in 2006, where very few people have seen him or had contact with him. His family believed he was dead for many years. His case was used to capture and implicate dozens of other foreign nationals in Pakistan but the US stated that it knew he was innocent by at least 2006. Nonetheless he has remained at Guantánamo since without charge or trial. He has successfully sued Poland and Lithuania for their roles in his ordeal.
The London Guantánamo Campaign held an online day of protest on Monday 11 January 2021 to mark the nineteenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. Thank you to everyone who took part and contributed to our Twitter storm.