Join the international call to Shut Down Guantánamo Bay Prison! Learn more at https://witnessagainsttorture.com/
Of approximately 780 men sent to Guantánamo Bay Prison, only 35 remain. Of the 35 men still held, 20 have been cleared for release but are still held because of “institutional inertia,” as authority on Guantánamo Andy Worthington writes. “Most of these men (16 in total) have been approved for release since President Biden took office, but one was approved for release in the dying days of the Trump administration, and three others, shamefully, are still languishing at Guantánamo despite having been approved for release in 2009.”
One of the men approved for release but still detained is Khaled Qassim. He is a citizen of Yemen. Qassim has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since 2002. Qassim was 25 years old at the time of his capture. Afghan forces captured him in Afghanistan in December 2001, after which he was sent to Guantánamo. The US government alleged that he received military training in Afghanistan and “may have fought for the Taliban in or near Kabul and Bagram,” according to his detainee profile. His detainee profile also noted that he was a persistent hunger striker.
As Qassim wrote for The Guardian in January 2022, he was held in solitary confinement for the first nine years of his detention. He wrote, “The only freedom I have here is to protest” and that on aggregate, he has been on hunger strike for seven years. He also said that painting has been his relief but that his captors prevent many of his paintings from being released from Guantanamo.
The Periodic Review Board (PRB) repeatedly designated him for continued detention not because of allegations prior to his imprisonment but because of disciplinary infractions while detained. This continued until July 2022, when he was finally cleared for release. As Andy Worthington notes, the US was wrong to use someone’s “violent reaction to the torture, abuse, and lawlessness of Guantananmo,” over so many years as a justification to continue
the detention. In their decision, the PRB noted his “low level of training and lack of a leadership role in al Qaida or the Taliban.”
Qassim is now one of 20 men cleared for release yet still detained at Guantanamo. When will they be released?
Here are some things you can do.
- Connect with Witness Against Torture (WAT). WAT is a volunteer group that organizes to shut down Guantanamo, end indefinite detention and torture and call out Islamophobia. As part of its organizing, WAT gathers in Washington, DC in January to mark the shameful anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo.
- Contact Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee urging passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with no limitations on transfers from Guantanamo. If your (Democratic) senator is on the committee, please call that person once a week!
- Call on the Biden administration for Urgent Action to release all Guantanamo detainees cleared for transfer now
- Donate to the Guantanamo Survivors Fund. This fund seeks to provide immediate short-term support to former Guantanamo prisoners.
Here are the words in full from Qassim as published in The Guardian, before he was cleared for release.
I’ve been held at Guantánamo for 20 years without trial. Mr Biden, please set me free
By Khalid Qasim, The Guardian, January 10, 2022
Despite how many times, under how many presidential administrations, I have been disappointed, I hold out hope.
Injustice takes many forms. After 20 years in US custody, most of that time spent in Guantánamo, you could say I am an expert.
It may surprise you to know that I think America has a very good justice system. But it is only for Americans. In the cases of those like me, justice is not something that interests the US. I wish that people understood how Guantánamo is distinct.
In Guantánamo, the torture we are exposed to is not isolated to the interrogation rooms; it exists in our daily lives. This intentional psychological torture is what makes Guantánamo different. There is interference in every aspect of my existence – my sleep, my food, my walking.
For the first nine years at Guantánamo, I was held in solitary confinement. It was a harsher, more violent place then. The communal blocks that opened in 2010 made a difference, but the deliberate mental torture remains the same. The rules change constantly and without warning. Some guards and some administrations are more cruel than others.
Imagine you’re watching TV and someone comes up behind you and starts lightly kicking you. If it only happens for a little bit, it won’t be a problem. But say they just keep kicking you, endlessly, no matter how often you tell them to stop, and there is nothing you can do about it. Imagine what kind of torture that would be.
The only freedom I have here is to protest. On aggregate, I have been on hunger strike for seven years. Seven years, feeling that I am not dead but also not alive. I believe in facing my jailer. They control my body, but not my heart. They tried to prevent me from learning, but I have anyway.
Painting has been my relief. I am proud of my art. Perhaps you have seen the few pieces that I have been able to get out of here? When they were exhibited in New York, I thought of the paintings looking out on to the elegant streets and the big buildings, and of the people in their nice city looking in, and how they cannot possibly imagine what our lives are like.
But even this relief has been taken from me. My captors refuse to let me send my art out of the prison. They have made it harder to make photocopies of what I paint, so I can’t even show my attorneys. So it becomes a burden. When I paint I feel a pain in my heart, knowing that the work I am doing is never going to be seen by anyone else.
When President Obama said he would close Guantánamo, we were optimistic and believed him. I hope that President Biden will complete that promise. He should do everything he can to shut the prison – not for us, but for the US.
Other countries used to look up to the US for human rights, and they don’t any more – any claim by the US to defend human rights rings hollow. When Biden criticized Russia, Putin responded “What about GTMO?” Closing it will begin to repair the damage to America’s reputation.
The golden years of my life have been wasted in Guantánamo. If what happened to me happened in America, they would give me millions of dollars. Because I’m in Guantánamo, because I’m Arab, because I’m Yemeni, nobody cares.
But I want you to know I am a hopeful person. I don’t know where I will go, or what I will do, but there is another life for me, outside this prison.
Yemeni national Khalid Qasim has been detained without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay since 2002. His art has been exhibited at John Jay College and CUNY in New York.
“Save the World”, a 2016 painting by Khaled Qassim recently posted in Facebook by his friend Mansoor Adayfi
Words from Qassim accessed at:
Painting by Qassim and photograph of Qassim accessed at:
Other articles used:
Qassim government detainee profile