New Hearing for Sharqawi Al Hajj Too Little, Too Late
Unless Obama Administration Acts Now, Attorneys Say
November 15, New York – Today, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) announced that it has granted a new hearing to Sharqawi Al Hajj, a Yemeni who has been detained without charge in Guantanamo since 2004, following an initial review last spring that recommended his continued detention. Before his transfer to Guantanamo, Al Hajj was tortured in secret prisons in Jordan and Afghanistan for two years – treatment that a federal court ruled tainted his subsequent interrogations by the United States and prevented the government from relying on the information to justify his detention. Despite that ruling, during his initial PRB process, the government’s narrative about him drew upon information that had been previously discredited. While today’s announcement grants Al Hajj a new full review, the date for his hearing has not yet been set, and he could be left in continuing limbo when President Obama leaves office. Al Hajj’s attorneys issued this response to the announcement:
While the PRBs were never a cure for the legal and moral problem of indefinite detention in Guantanamo, they were established by the Obama administration to ensure that it wasn’t holding detainees any longer than necessary. But if Mr. Al Hajj remains in Guantanamo when President Obama leaves office, it will not be because the board conducted a fair and timely review of his detention and determined that he must remain detained, but because his initial review was deeply flawed, drawing from discredited information tainted by torture, and inexcusably late, coming four years after initial reviews of all PRB-eligible detainees were supposed to be complete.
Today, Mr. Al Hajj is on hunger strike and in poor health. He has a caring and established family willing to do anything to support his rehabilitation. He wants to live his remaining years in peace. The Obama administration should expedite his new hearing or take other action to resolve his status before the end of the term. It should not leave the fate of a tortured and sick man who never took up arms against the United States in the hands of the next administration.
Al Hajj was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and rendered by the United States to a prison in Jordan, where he was interrogated under threats of electrocution and violence and subjected to regular beatings over the course of 19 months. He was then transferred to a “Dark Prison” in Kabul, where he was kept for five months and forced to endure complete darkness and continuous loud music. He was sent from there to Bagram and finally to Guantanamo, arriving in 2004. His treatment is detailed in a ruling by the district court in Washington, DC, striking statements from certain of his interrogations as tainted by torture.
Al Hajj’s ill health stems in part from his past treatment. He has also maintained a hunger strike for the past year and is subjected to daily force-feedings.
The Periodic Review Board is a forward-looking, administrative process to determine whether “detention is necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for nearly 15 years – representing clients in two Supreme Court cases and organizing and coordinating hundreds of pro bono lawyers across the country, ensuring that nearly all the men detained at Guantánamo have had the option of legal representation. Among other Guantánamo cases, the Center represents men who have been released and are seeking justice in international courts.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.