Anna Yearley is the Joint Executive Director of Reprieve and co-manages all aspects of Reprieve’s work. In 2021, she was awarded an OBE for services to human rights.
Anna answered some questions on Reprieve’s critical work with detainees in Guantánamo Bay, and gave us a very valuable insight into the surrounding politics.
- When did Reprieve first become involved with Guantánamo Bay detainees?
Our involvement in Guantánamo originally stemmed from our death penalty work, in that all those rendered, tortured, and unlawfully detained there post 9/11 were facing possible death sentences. Reprieve was one of the very first organisations working in Guantánamo and granted access to detainees.
After the first prisoners arrived at Guantánamo in 2002, the Bush administration claimed that the Geneva Conventions – including the rules governing the treatment of prisoners of war – did not apply. As a result, the detainees were denied access to lawyers, and the right to challenge their detention. Reprieve’s Founder travelled the length and breadth of the Middle East and North Africa to find the families of “disappeared” prisoners, and eventually he and two other brave lawyers challenged the US Government before the Supreme Court. In 2004, they won access to Guantánamo, and Reprieve has since been representing the prisoners held there and provided vital pastoral support.
Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay. Guantánamo is an illegal prison camp that should never have existed – yet it remains open to this day. Since its inception in 2002, almost 800 men and boys have been held there. All were subject to extraordinary rendition and many were tortured at CIA-run black sites around the world – often with the complicity of US allies, including the UK.
Now only 35 men remain in Guantánamo. This is in large part to Reprieve’s tireless work representing detainees and shining a spotlight on the catalogue of gross injustices perpetrated at the facility.
- How many prisoners have Reprieve been involved in releasing or clearing for release?
Reprieve has secured freedom for more than 80 men illegally detained in Guantánamo, without charge or trial, more than any other organisation or law firm.
One of the youngest detainees we fought for was Mohammed El Gharani, who was just 14 years old when he was taken to Guantánamo. Despite being a child, Mohammed was tortured, including having his head slammed against the floor, and cigarettes stubbed out on his arm. Mohammed was held for a total of seven years, until Reprieve lawyers won a court order for his release in 2009.
- Do you provide ongoing support to detainees, following their release?
Whilst the release of detainees from Guantánamo is a cause for celebration, a new set of challenges often begins for them. Despite being cleared by six US agencies – including the CIA and FBI – many former detainees are unable to return to their country of origin due to the risk of persecution and torture. Some are resettled to unfamiliar countries where they do not know the language, and are left alone to deal with the consequences of their long imprisonment.
Launched in 2009, our pioneering Life after Guantánamo (LAG) is the only project in the world solely dedicated to supporting individuals formerly detained in Guantánamo and their families. The support we offer through LAG is tailored to the individual’s needs, and is aimed at ensuring they can access the essential services they need to get back on their feet and rebuild their shattered lives – including torture rehabilitation services, specialised medical care, housing, securing papers and legal status, accessing the labour market and/or vocational training.
In 2021 alone, Reprieve provided support to 48 former Guantánamo detainees and their families. Since inception, we have supported:
- 34 men to obtain appropriate legal status;
- 29 men to receive specialist medical care;
- 23 men to receive business loans, employment support, and vocational training;
- 20 men to reunite with their families after two decades of separation;
- 16 men to secure safe housing;
- 15 men to learn new languages
- 14 men to access specialized psychological care, and torture rehabilitation from Arabic speaking clinicians.
- How long does the LAG programme provide support for, and is it restricted by country at all?
Through years of legal representation and pastoral care in Guantánamo, Reprieve has built relationships of trust with our clients, which makes us well placed to understand their needs. On this basis, we develop tailored resettlement plans for them. We also work closely with their families in order to understand what support will be available to them after they are transferred. In some cases, our team is waiting on the tarmac to meet the men off the plane and assist in their immediate transition. The duration, as well as the type and level of support we provide vary on a case-by-case basis.
Since the inception of the programme, we have helped former detainees resettle in 28 countries. For security reasons, we do not disclose the countries where our clients are released to, unless they are already in the public domain.
- When do you hope those remaining will be free?
When most of the world has forgotten about the many men still languishing in Guantánamo, Reprieve is keeping up the fight to free the remaining uncharged men. We are now at a critical juncture, as our three remaining clients – Ahmed Rabbani, Abdul Malik Bajabu, and Khalid Qasim – have been cleared for release by the Periodic Review Board. This means that they all went through a thorough parole-like process where six separate US agencies, including the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, have ruled that they pose no security risk. We are working tirelessly to ensure they are released as soon as possible and making plans for their resettlement, so that they can rebuild their lives. Ahmed, Abdul, and Khaled deserve to be back home with their families.
Of the almost 800 men and boys detained in Guantánamo since 2002, 35 men remain. Of those, only 12 have been charged with a crime – 9 are awaiting trial and three have been convicted. Three detainees are held in indefinite law-of-war detention and are neither facing tribunal charges, nor being recommended for release. 20 detainees have been cleared for release and are awaiting resettlement in another country. You can find more information and follow the latest updates on the New York Times’ Guantánamo Docket.
- Has President Biden committed to a date for its closure?
In 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order calling for the Guantánamo prison camp to be shut down within one year – but his administration missed that deadline. President Trump reversed the closure order. In 2021, President Biden committed to close down Guantánamo during his term. We will continue to campaign to make sure it finally happens.
- How do you think history will judge Guantánamo?
Guantánamo has now become a global symbol of injustice: a place which stands for torture, abuse, and indefinite detention. Reprieve exists to ensure that the world does not forget, and to prevent these atrocities from happening again – we are ready to step in wherever we are needed.
- How can people get involved to help the current and former detainees?
Reprieve will continue to campaign until all the remaining uncharged men are released and reunited with their families. You can join our campaign by signing our petition to close Guantánamo for good and share it with your contacts.
You can also considering making a donation to Reprieve to support our ongoing work in Guantánamo and our Life after Guantánamo programme.
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