On May 10th, the sole Kenyan held at Guantánamo, Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (aka Mohammed Abdulmalik) became the 36th prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. A high-level review process that began in November 2013, the PRBs involve representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and, in the two and half years since they were set up, they have been reviewing the cases of two groups of men: 46 men described by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (which President Obama set up when he first took office in 2009) as “too dangerous to release,” and 18 others initially put forward for trials until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, in 2012 and 2013, after appeals court judges ruled that the war crimes being prosecuted had been invented by Congress.
For the 46 men described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but what this means, of course, is that it is not evidence at all, but something far less trustworthy — information that was extracted from the prisoners themselves through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through being bribed with the promise of better living conditions.
Of the 36 cases reviewed up to and including Mohammed Abdulmalik, 21 men have so far been approved for release, and just seven have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended. The eight others reviewed are awaiting decisions.
Mohammed Abdulmalik, born in 1973, was one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo, on March 23, 2007, when he was described by the Pentagon as a “dangerous terror suspect,” who had “admitted to participation in the 2002 Paradise Hotel attack in Mombasa, Kenya, in which an explosive-filled SUV was crashed into the hotel lobby, killing 13 and injuring 80,” and had also “admitted to involvement in the attempted shootdown of an Israeli Boeing 757 civilian airliner carrying 271 passengers, near Mombasa.”
His lawyers at Reprieve have always maintained that there is no case against him. In a profile on their website, they explained that he is a father-of-three, and that he “was transferred by his own government to [the] US secret prison system.”
As Reprieve proceeded to explain, Abdulmalik’s ordeal “began with an arrest by Kenyan police in a hotel café in Mombasa in February 2007. He was held by Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit, during which time he was badly beaten and interrogated over alleged plans to attack a forthcoming marathon event in Mombasa.”
However, “[a]fter two weeks of detention the Kenyan authorities apparently found no evidence linking Abdulmalik to any criminal activity. But he was not set free. Instead, Kenyan authorities drove him to an airport and handed him, with no form of judicial process, to US military personnel.”
From Kenya he was flown to Djibouti, “where he was detained in a shipping container on a US military base and told by interrogators that he was about to embark on a ‘long, long journey,’” and was then flown to Afghanistan, where he was held at Bagram “in appalling conditions,” and at a second prison, and was then flown to Guantánamo.
In Kenya, Reprieve noted, there has been “justified anger amongst civil rights groups” about the government’s perceived betrayal of a Kenyan citizen, although in response, as Reprieve also noted, the Kenyan government has “tried to duck responsibility by denying that Abdulmalik is Kenyan.”
Describing this as “a laughable claim,” Reprieve explained that “[d]ozens of people, including his father and the midwife who delivered him – in Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria – stand witness to his Kenyan birth and heritage.”
The Kenyan government has also sought to deny its involvement in Abdulmalik’s transfer out of Kenya by US forces, by claiming that he was deported. However, the US Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, confirmed on Kenyan radio that Abdulmalik was “moved to Guantánamo Bay with the full consent of the Kenyan government … [as] part of collaboration between the two governments to fight global terrorism.”
Assessing his situation at Guantánamo, Reprieve noted that he was “no longer regularly interrogated,” and saw this as “perhaps a sign that the US government have realized that he is not the big fish they thought he was.”
In September 2012, the Daily Nation also covered his case, when his step-sister, Mwajuma Rajab Abdalla, said from her home in Mombasa, “We don’t know what has happened to him. We last heard from the government about him two years ago. Nobody is willing to help us.”
The 2012 article quoted extensively from Abdulmalik’s own testimony about his experiences, provided to his lawyers — how, after he was first seized, “[i]n the car, two of the policemen held pistols to each of [his] temples, and one of them choked [him] and then crushed his head under his boot. Another still held a pistol to his head. The policeman continued to choke [him] until one of his colleagues said: ‘Not so tight, we’ll kill the guy.’”
Held briefly in a variety of facilities in Kenya, “he saw three white men observing him from outside the interrogation room” in one prison — presumably, Americans — and, when taken to an airport, “saw, through the bottom of his blindfold, a huge plane with a US flag painted on its side.” Subsequently “stripped naked, put in a diaper and then dressed in a tracksuit,” he was flown to Camp Lemonier, a US military facility in Djibouti, where “he remained chained to the floor of the cargo plane, with his eyes, head and mouth covered.” In his testimony, he said that, at one point during the flight, US soldiers “took him to the door of the aircraft and threatened to throw him out.”
In Djibouti, “he was taken to a shipping container and put in an interrogation room with four people — two guards and two interrogators — who told him that he was connected to people from all over the world” involved in terrorism. It was here that he was also told that he was “suspected of planning to attack the World Cross-country Championships in Mombasa in 2007.”
He said a US interrogator told him, “You have two possible journeys: one back to your family, or another that is very, very long. If you don’t tell us what we want to hear, you will have a long, long journey; you will spend your life in a cage.”
On the flight to Afghanistan, Abdulmalik said, he felt “very alone, confused and scared,” and on arrival, at a time when Bagram was still in US hands and full of prisoners, he was “held in a wooden pen in the cage-like cells,” and was also “taken to another secret prison in Kabul, where Americans took his photographs, weighed him, and gave him a blue jumpsuit to wear.”
On arrival at Guantánamo, he said, he was held in solitary confinement for two months, and was only allowed to wear shorts. Then, as he described it, “the US government discovered that he was not the big fish that they thought he was and moved him to Camp IV … reserved for suspects the US believes present the lowest risk.”
An announcement of the board’s decision will probably be made within the next one to two months