Anti-Guantanamo protest outside the US embassy in London on January 11 2008, the fifth anniversary of the first prisoner being detained at Guantanamo Bay
Anti-Guantanamo protest outside the US embassy in London on January 11 2008, the fifth anniversary of the first prisoner being detained at Guantanamo Bay

AN OPEN letter to US President Obama reveals how one juvenile and 19 other prisoners remain dangerously brutalised in Guantánamo Bay, despite federal courts ordering their release.

On 26 February lawyers acting for Guantánamo prisoners launched an urgent appeal to Obama to halt the abuse of 20 men declared ‘free’ by the US government.

In the open letter lawyers from Wilmer Hale, Bingham McCutchen and Reprieve urged Obama to intervene immediately to stop the escalating mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay.

The letter reminds the Obama administration to honour the decisions handed down by the federal courts of the United States, which order the immediate release of 20 men.

The group includes Mohammed el Gharani, who was imprisoned at 14 years old.

Judge Leon ruled that Mohammed is not and never has been an enemy combatant, and was wrongfully held at Guantánamo Bay.

Two months later, he remains in one of the most brutal wings of the prison.

It also includes the Uighurs, whose resettlement efforts have been stifled by being falsely branded ‘terrorists’ in defiance of the court’s ruling.

The Boumediene petitioners are further proof that winning a habeas case is a far cry from winning freedom.

The Open Letter reads:

Dear President Obama:

‘On January 21, you took dramatic steps towards restoring the rule of law in America. You ordered that the military prison at Guantanamo Bay be speedily closed. You banned not just torture, nor just cruel and degrading treatment – you banned the legal loopholes that made these abuses possible. You reaffirmed that commitment in your February 24 address to Congress.

You have embraced the rule of law by acknowledging that Guantanamo prisoners have a right to their day in court through the writ of habeas corpus.

The promise and importance of these principles cannot be overstated. Today, however, we write on behalf of men imprisoned at Guantanamo for whom that promise still seems empty.

We speak as attorneys for twenty men who won their federal court cases – not one of them is an enemy of the United States – but who nonetheless are still in the world’s most notorious prison. Some have been and continue to be beaten and mistreated by their jailers.

Mr President, we know that you sincerely respect both the Constitution and the Great Writ of habeas corpus.

Yet the state of affairs is this: federal judges have ordered the government to release almost ten per cent of the Guantanamo population. Virtually all of those men remain in prison, some in conditions that insult human dignity. These are innocent men, held in a prison that has become a national shame.

As lawyers and Americans, we urge you not to tolerate their continued imprisonment – or to countenance their further abuse.

Consider Lakhdar Bourmediene, the lead petitioner in the Supreme Court case Boumediene v Bush. He is one of five men who were not only exonerated by the District Court, but who inspired their judges to plead with the government not to appeal their cases.

We can put it no better than Judge Richard Leon did that day last November: “seven years is more than plenty.” Three months later, Mr Boumediene is still in prison. No relief is in sight.

Instead of being freed, for ten days this month he was taken to an isolated cell and forced to sleep and pray on a mat reeking from excrement. Mr Boumediene has continued a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. During these ten days, he endured forced feedings, for which he was roughly strapped into a chair that restrained his arms, legs, and head, a tube was rammed through his nostril, and litres of fluid were pumped into his stomach at an alarming rate, forcing him to gag, choke, or vomit.

Another of these innocent men is little more than a boy. Mohammed el Gharani has grown up in Guantanamo – he was just fourteen when seized and sold to the US military. On January 14, Judge Leon ordered his release. On January 14, the government of Chad renewed its official request that he be sent home. Six weeks later, Mr el Gharani is still in jail, still in isolation, and still bears wounds from ongoing mistreatment. His lawyers saw the cuts with their own eyes.

Mr President, Mohammed el Gharani should have spent the last seven years in school. His parents in Saudi Arabia weep for their son. He had a country and a family to go home to, a court order for his release, and a sense of humour that will serve him well when he is free at last. Each day he spends in isolation is gratuitous.

Finally, the government concedes that 17 Uighurs still held at Guantanamo Bay are not enemy combatants. Most of these men were cleared for release over five years ago. Over the summer, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the military’s classification of Huzaifa Parhat and four others as “enemy combatants,” and ordered that they be released, transferred, or granted a new hearing.

The government decided not to hold a new hearing for any of the Uighurs, and instead conceded that – notwithstanding seven years of imprisonment – none of the Uighurs are “enemy combatatants.” Yet the Uighurs still live behind the barbed wire of a United States military prison, with no apparent prospect of freedom.

Mr President, our clients recognise the challenges you face. But we respectfully submit that finding a home now for 20 innocents is a drop in the ocean. So is stopping the ongoing and unacceptable abuse of Messrs Boumediene and el Gharani.

The continued imprisonment of these men makes us no safer, and it shames America. As you said yourself on January 20: “Our security emanates from the justness of our cause.”

On behalf of our clients, we therefore respectfully, but urgently ask:

1. that you have all innocent men moved to communal living facilities in Camps 4 or Iguana immediately;

2. that you direct that they be treated humanely, respectfully, and in accordance with law;

3. that allegations of mistreatment be promptly and thoroughly investigated; and

4. that you heed the judgments of the courts of the United States, and immediately restore liberty to these men – be it in Chad, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, the United States, or any other country acceptable to our clients.


Signed by representatives of the Counsels for the 20 prisoners.