From November 2013 until last month, reviews — Periodic Review Boards — took place for 64 Guantánamo prisoners who had been assessed as “too dangerous to release” or eligible for prosecution by the previous review process, conducted by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.
The PRBs — consisting of 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 — have so far delivered 57 decisions, approving 34 men for release, while upholding the ongoing imprisonment of 25 others. Five decisions have yet to be taken in the process, which is similar to parole, although with one obvious difference— none of the men at Guantánamo have been tried or convicted. Like parole, however, the PRBs require them to show remorse, and to demonstrate that they would establish peaceful and constructive lives if released.
The success rate in the PRBs to date — 58% — confirms that the decisions in 2009 demonstrated unnecessary caution on the part of the officials who made up the Guantánamo Review Task Force. For further details, see the definitive Periodic Review Board list that I wrote for the Close Guantánamo website that I established in January 2012 with the US attorney Tom Wilner.
Haji Wali Mohammed approved for release
On October 17, it was revealed by the Periodic Review Secretariat that Haji Wali Mohammed aka Muhammed (ISN 560), an Afghan money exchanger, had been approved for release. The decision took place on September 26, but for some reason it was not announced at the time.
His review took place on August 25, and as I noted at the time, his ongoing imprisonment had never seemed to make sense. Mohammed had lost a significant amount of the Taliban’s money when a deal went wrong, and had been blamed by them. There was obviously no love lost between them. As I explained ten years ago in my book The Guantánamo Files, based on a Bush-era review at Guantánamo:
Explaining that he did not know bin Laden and had no time for the Taliban, who had ruined his life, he said, “We were businessmen, their ways and our ways were different. That’s why they didn’t like us and we didn’t like them. Because a businessman does not have a beard and listens to music in his car, and he watches television and they didn’t like that.”
Significantly, the US authorities also seemed to recognize that Mohammed “might not have been the bigshot they had spent years pretending he was,” as I described it, with no confirmation that he had anything to do with Osama bin Laden, for reasons that involved “incomplete reporting, multiple individuals with [his] name — Haji Wali Mohammad — and lack of post-capture reflections.” It was also noted that he had been “highly compliant” at Guantánamo.
In approving his release, the board members recognized that, although he “presents some level of threat in light of his past activities, skills and associations,” the threat he presents “can be adequately mitigated” in light of the fact that his “business connections and associations with al-Qaeda and the Taliban pre-date 9/11 and appear to have ended,’ that he “does not appear to be motivated by extremist ideologies,” and because of his “relatively compliant behavior and cooperative attitude toward JTF-GTMO staff.”
In conclusion, the board members recommended his transfer “with the appropriate security assurances, as negotiated by the Special Envoys and agreed to by relevant USG departments and agencies, preferably to a country with reintegration support and the capacity to implement robust security measures, including monitoring and travel restrictions.”
Former child prisoner Hassan bin Attash has his imprisonment upheld
On October 11, the board delivered its decision in the case of Hassan bin Attash (ISN 1456), born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents. As I stated at the time of his PRB, he “appears to have been just 17 years old when he was seized in a house raid in Pakistan and sent to Jordan to be tortured” prior to being sent to Guantánamo, where he has been held for 12 years without charge or trial, although the US alleges that he was 20 at the time.
Bin Attash is the brother of one of the men facing a trial for their involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and was seized in Karachi on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the attacks, with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, another of the men facing a trial. Nevertheless, whatever his alleged wrongdoing, he has never been treated as he should have been as a juvenile, because juveniles (those under 18 when their alleged crimes took place) are supposed to be rehabilitated rather than punished, and kept separate from adult prisoners, according to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which the US is signatory, and which came into force the year bin Attash was seized. The Optional Protocol stipulates that juvenile prisoners “require special protection,” and specifically recognizes “the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities”, requiring its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”
In bin Attash’s case, the Periodic Review Board members approved his ongoing imprisonment because they “considered [his] history with al-Qa’ida, to include serving as an explosives specialist and an aide to several senior al-Qa’ida members, as well as supporting numerous plots against the US and other Western targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, and North Africa.”
Additionally, they did not find him “credible” because, they stated, he “denied making any statements threatening guards or expressing his belief that Westerners are his enemies,” he “remains intent on reengaging after detention,” and he “refused to acknowledge that he was affected by his extremist upbringing and indoctrination at an early age.”
The board members also concluded that he “downplayed his knowledge regarding what was happening during his extensive time in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” which, they stated, “is not credible given the significant amount of time he spent in Afghanistan,” and they ended by stating that they were “unable to assess [his] current mindset due to his refusal to be candid in response to numerous lines of questioning.”
In the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg added that the bin Attash brothers “have never seen each other” at Guantánamo, as their lawyers have explained, because the elder brother, Walid, is held in Camp 7, reserved for the “high-value detainees,” while Hassan is held in Camp 6, where prisoners are allowed to mingle freely.
Pakistani Ahmed Rabbani has his imprisonment upheld
In another decision, taken on October 3 but not announced until October 17, Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), identified as Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani, also had his imprisonment upheld. A long-term hunger striker, he was regarded as “a financial and travel facilitator for prominent al-Qa’ida leaders Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024) and USS Cole mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from 1997 until his arrest in September 2002,” with his brother Abdul Rahim, whose ongoing imprisonment was upheld in August, after a review in July.
At Ahmed Rabbani’s review, on September 1, his lawyer, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis of Reprieve, attempted to persuade the board that he was a case of mistaken identity, as the CIA had seized him and his brother thinking on elf them was someone else, but even though this was true it doesn’t address the brothers’ actual role, and, i any case, the parole-style PRBs are generally much more interested in contrition than they are in disputed facts.
In Ahmed Rabbani’s case, the board members considered his “lengthy and continuous association with al-Qa-ida, beginning with training in Afghanistan in 1994,” and “also noted that [he] was a financial and travel facilitator over an extended period of time” for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Furthermore, the board members considered what they regarded as his “lack of candor, his evasive and non-responsive answers to the Board’s questions, and his multiple contradictory statements which mad wit difficult for the Board to assess his mindset.”
In conclusion, the board members “noted [his] refusal to take responsibility or appreciate the implications of his pre-detention activities, [his] lengthy history of highly non-complaint behavior during detention, [his] strong expressions of support for terrorist activities, and the lack of evidence of a change in [his] mindset.”
Further reviews — including for the Pakistani businessman Saifullah Paracha
For Hassan bin Attash, Ahmed Rabbani and the 22 other prisoners recommend for ongoing imprisonment by the PRBs, their initial reviews are not the end of the story. All have purely administrative reviews (file reviews) every six months, which reconsider their cases, and to which their lawyers can submit information. Every three years, they are entitled to an additional full review, but in some cases the file reviews also recommend that full reviews take place sooner.
This has happened with four men whose ongoing imprisonment was recommended by PRBs, but who subsequently ended up being granted full reviews, which subsequently approved their release (and three of the four have been freed). In addition, in June, Moath al-Alwi (aka Muaz al-Alawi, ISN 028), was granted a full review that will take place on October 20, and three other men have had full reviews recommended in the last month — Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei’i (ISN 508), whose review is taking place on November 1, Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim (ISN 522), whose review is taking place on November 8, and Mohammed Al-Ansi (ISN 29) whose review is taking place on March 1, 2017 (although no explanation was given as to why his review is not taking place sooner).
In all these cases the review board members stated that, “After reviewing relevant new information related to the detainee as well as information considered during the full review, the Board, by consensus, determined that a significant question is raised as to whether the detainee’s continued detention is warranted and therefore an additional full review should be conducted.”
The recognition that additional information raises “a significant question” about whether or not the prisoners in question should continue to be held is obviously very significant — especially as the four men reviewed to date have subsequently had their releases recommended, and on October 10 the board members — for the same reasons — also approved a full review in the case of Saifullah Paracha, although no date has yet been set for the review.
I am glad to see that this full review is taking place, because, as I wrote when Paracha’s ongoing imprisonment was recommended, in April:
I have never found the case against Paracha — that he worked with Al-Qaeda in a plot or plots relating to the US — to be convincing, as he lived and worked as a successful businessman in the US from 1970-86, appears to be socially liberal, and has been a model prisoner at Guantánamo, where he has helped numerous younger prisoners engage with the various review processes established over the years. When his PRB took place, the authorities described him as as “very compliant” with the prison guards, with “moderate views and acceptance of Western norms.”
I also hope that, in due, course, Paracha and the four other men granted further full reviews will be granted their release, as I can see no good reason for anyone to continue to be held at Guantánamo unless there are demonstrably serious allegations against them — and, preferably, of course, they should as a result be put on trial.