Just before Christmas, it was announced that Mohammed al-Ansi aka Muhammad al-Ansi (ISN 029), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, had been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. The decision made al-Ansi the 38th prisoner to be approved for release by a PRB, and the seventh to be approved for release not after a first review, but after a second review. The decision also means that, of the 59 men still held, 23 have been approved for release.
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 — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and 64 men have had their cases reviewed, with just 26, to date, having their ongoing imprisonment upheld. That’s a success rate of 59% for the prisoners, which rather undermines the alleged basis of their ongoing imprisonment when the PRBs were set up.
41 of the 64 men had been described as “too dangerous to release” by the previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial, while the 23 other men had been recommended for prosecution until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.
Al-Ansi had his case reviewed on February 23, 2016, when both his personal representatives (military personnel appointed to help the prisoners with their PRBs) and his attorney at the time, Lisa Strauss, stressed to the board members how al-Ansi has become a prolific and talented artist at Guantánamo, how he has a supportive family and chronic health issues, and how he bears no ill-will towards the United States. It was difficult to square this assessment with the US authorities’ ongoing efforts portray him as one of the so-called “Dirty Thirty,” men seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001, who, while mostly young, and mostly recent arrivals in Afghanistan, were unconvincingly portrayed as bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, but he was approved for ongoing detention on March 23, 2016.
A file review — an administrative process guaranteed every six months — took place on September 13, 2016, resulting in the following statement from the board members: “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.”
That review took place on December 6, when his recently appointed attorney, Beth Jacob, made representations on his behalf. Jacob works for Kelley Drye & Warren, a national law firm, and stated at the review, “I have represented Mr. al Ansi [since] shortly after the Board’s decision on the initial review; I was not his lawyer at the time of the previous board hearing. I have met and spoken with Mr. al Ansi numerous times in the past year, and also read some of his earlier letters and the files of his case. He has been open and respectful of me in all of our interactions.”
Beth Jacob’s submission to the board also stated:
At our first meeting, Mr. al Ansi paid me the compliment of bringing a selection of his paintings where he has learned art through classes at Guantánamo. We spent the first hour discussing his artwork. After several meetings, he trusted me with his originals, and I showed them to an artist who lives and works in New York City. She was struck by his ability and innate talent, as she has written in her letter to this Board.
Both this artist and Reprieve pointed out that Mr. al Ansi’s art will stand him in good stead if he is deemed transferrable. First, it will give him something to do and a means of expression, in the first days and weeks after his transfer. Second, he will be part of a community of artists, which will provide stability and social contacts. Third, there is the possibility of earnings from his art. But Mr. al Ansi is planning for more practical ways to make a living — he told me he would like a construction job, and among the many classes that he is taking here at GTMO is one about small business.
Beth Jacob also spoke about the importance of al-Ansi’s family, describing him as one of five children, whose “siblings are educated, married and hold responsible jobs,” adding, “Although they grew up in Saudi Arabia, the family now lives in Yemen. But despite the unsettled conditions in Yemen, the al Ansi family still has resources which they are completely willing to use to help their brother start a new life after Guantánamo, as shown by the statements the family submitted to the first board and the panel. His family will be a stabilizing force when he is transferred.”
Jacob also spoke about his health, although a key passage in her submission was redacted. What was clear, however, is that he suffers from “chronic conditions,” and he “knows that managing the chronic conditions take much time, effort and attention, and that he must follow a strict diet and exercise regimen, in addition to his medications.”
Repeated from al-Ansi’s first review was a promise of assistance from The Carter Center, founded by President Carter, and from Reprieve, “through its successful Life After Guantánamo project, which has helped over three dozen former detainees, many of them Yemenis, make the adjustment from Guantánamo to life in society.”
Beth Jacob concluded her submission by stating:
Mr. al Ansi comes before you as someone who has matured during his time in Guantánamo, from a teenage to man who devotes his free tie to art, understands the importance of family, and is confronted with serious medical challenges. He has taken advantage of his years here in taking numerous cases, including learning English. He has been unfailingly polite and gentle in all of his conversations with me, and non-ideological. He is known to the guards as someone who will help mediate disputes — a peacemaker, not a troublemaker. I ask this Board to approve him for transfer.”
In approving his release, in a decision dated December 9, the board members, having determined, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” stated that al-Ansi “demonstrated candor and provided details of his pre-detention activities and mindset, and also noted his efforts to take advantage of opportunities in detention to better himself, including academic, art, and business classes.” They also noted that he “does not appear to be driven to reengage by extremist ideology, has not made statements against the US or Western allies, and … has been mostly compliant in detention.” The board members also “considered the support network available to [him] upon transfer, from family and others, and that [he] has no known familial ties to extremism.”
It is not known if al-Ansi’s approval for release means that he is included in the 17 or 18 men that the New York Times reported last week would be free before President Obama leaves office (and which I wrote about here), but as Carol Rosenberg noted for the Miami Herald, because, by law, “Congress must get 30 days advance notice of a transfer from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter” and “[s]ince December has 31 days, the Pentagon could theoretically have sent transfer notices to Congress as late as Wednesday [December 21] and still arrange military transport from Guantánamo before Inauguration Day.”
I also await further results from the Periodic Review Boards, as the outcome of al-Ansi’s full review maintained a 100% success rate in these second full reviews, when the prisoners are once more interviewed by video link by the board members. Three other men whose ongoing imprisonment was approved by PRBs were, like al-Ansi, granted second full reviews, which have already taken place, although decisions have not yet been taken. The men in question are Moath Hamza Ahmed Al-Alwi (ISN 28), Said Salih Said Nashir (ISN 841) and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman (ISN 27). Three other me have also been promised second full reviews after file reviews, although dates have not yet been set for those reviews. These three men are Saifullah Paracha (ISN 1094), Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj (ISN 1457) and Omar Mohammed Ali Al-Rammah (ISN 1017).
I will be writing more about these reviews soon.