Guantanamo Detainee To Plead for Freedom at Special Hearing

Abdul Rabbani

Abdul Rabbani’s PRB is set for 7 July 2016

On Thursday, 7 July 2017, Guantanamo Bay detainee Abdul Rabbani is scheduled to have a chance officially to plead that he poses no threat to U.S. national security and should be released from Guantanamo.

He may speak at a hearing, called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), authorized by a 2011 Executive Order issued by President Obama. Detainees may argue for their freedom before a panel representing a cross-section of the U.S. national security community.

Rabbani is expected to appear in a small room at Guantanamo Bay, with a U.S. government provided military “special representative” at his side. He and the special representative may make statements, call witnesses, or invoke other rights. The review panel consists of representatives of the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Security – all viewing remotely, presumably via secure video-link from their Washington, DC area offices.

Over 50 PRB “initial reviews” have been held since 2013. After Rabbani’s PRB tomorrow, the last scheduled PRB is set for Thursday, 14 July 2016, for Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush (ISN 708), of Libya, who has been held at Guantanamo since 2002. For a chart of scheduled PRBs (past and future), please see the bottom of this link.

If after the “initial review”, a detainee is deemed not to be a significant threat to the US, arrangements may be sought for repatriating him to his home country or releasing him to a third country. If he is deemed a significant threat, he will have a “file review” every 6 months, and a “full review” every 3 years (“triennial review”).

Denial of me to observe PRBs at remote DC-area location

PRBs are also video-cast live from Guantanamo to a remote facility near the Pentagon, where specially approved media, non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, and individuals may view the public portion of the proceedings.

One would expect the PRBs to be transparent, with reasonable access for media, human rights observers and individual experts to view from the remote DC-area facility. It has proved difficult to gain permission to observe a PRB.

The Pentagon has denied multiple NGOs permission to observe, including NGOs with longstanding work in Guantanamo Bay detainee related issues. Also, the Pentagon has denied access to at least one individual with longstanding work in the areas of wartime detention, international law, and human rights – me!

I have been seeking permission to attend PRBs for many months, submitting significant materials in support of this request. I have been denied permission to observe PRBs multiple times, for multiple unofficial reasons. I await an official letter from the Periodic Review Secretariat (PRS) either expressly granting permission to observe, or expressly denying permission.

Since over 50 detainees have had their “initial review” PRBs, and only a couple are left, the last opportunity to observe an “initial review” will likely be within the next week.

Criteria for approving media and non-media observers for PRBs

The Periodic Review Secretariat lists criteria for selecting PRB observers as follows:

In selecting applicants for observer status, the following criteria will be considered:

  • Reach of the applicant organization or individual (e.g., audience size, readership, subscriptions, circulation, viewers, listeners, website hits, writings, broadcasts, professional standing, diversity of audience, etc.).
  • Nexus of the applicant’s organizational mission to Periodic Review Board proceedings, wartime detention, international law, and/or human rights.  If the applicant is an individual, the nexus of the individual’s writings, commentaries, and/or broadcasts on the same topics may be considered.
  • Extent to which applicant has provided longstanding and frequent coverage of issues relating to Periodic Review Board proceedings, wartime detention, international law and/or human rights.

All groups, organizations and individuals (if not affiliated with a group or organization) will be evaluated under these procedures.  Applicants are asked to provide documentation and examples of how the organization or the individual meets the above criteria.

I have applied for observer status under the various prongs, including the second prong (second bullet point) — the “nexus standard” — which calls upon the Pentagon to consider the following when selecting PRB Observers:


(1)  For organizations, the nexus of the organizational mission to:

(a) Periodic Review Board proceedings;

(b) wartime detention;

(c)  international law; and/or

(d) human rights. 


(2)  For individuals, the nexus of the individual’s writings, commentaries, and/or broadcasts to

(a) Periodic Review Board proceedings;

(b) wartime detention;

(c)  international law; and/or

(d) human rights.


We look forward to learning from the Pentagon whether this standard is met and I will be able to observe PRBs, or whether the standard is not met and I will be officially denied (following multiple other denials). It is particularly important to be able to observe PRBs, not only because of the role they may play in the debate regarding closing Guantanamo Bay, but also because these hearings are very important in discussions regarding rights and interests of all Guantanamo Bay stakeholders.

Who is Rabbani?

Rabbani was born in Saudi Arabia, claims citizenship of Pakistan, and is about 46 or 47 years of age. It is alleged that among other things, he operated safe houses in Karachi, Pakistan that housed high level al Qaeda members, and had links with Osama bin Laden, Khalid Shaik Mohammad, and 11 of the 9/11 hijackers.

Gulam Rabbani

Rabbani’s brother — Gulam Rabbani

He was captured in September 2002 in Pakistan in a raid that netted several others since taken to Guantanamo Bay. He and others were held at various prisons, including in CIA custody (black sites), before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2004.

Rabanni’s brother – Gulam Rabbani – is also being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Is Rabbani a risk?                  

In previous years, through different, non-PRB processes, Rabbani was considered a risk.

For example, 9 June 2008, Rear Admiral DAM. Thomas, Jr (US Navy, Commanding) wrote a memo to the Commander of the US Southern Command, recommending Rabbani’s continued detention. He contended that Rabbani’s risk assessment was as follows (bold & all caps in the original):

“A HIGH risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies”

“A MEDIUM threat from a detention perspective”–

“Of HIGH intelligence value”

The PRB panel is expected to render a decision within a few weeks after the hearing as to whether Rabbani currently poses a significant national security risk to the U.S. A decision is not set to be made until the panel hears directly from the personal representative, and quite possibly from the detainee himself, from witnesses, and from the Government.

The overwhelming majority of each PRB is conducted in secret (closed / classified) proceedings. Most of the PRBs I have reviewed transcripts of list the public sessions as lasting around 19 to 21 minutes on average (again, with that figure being an estimate). The open session would typically consist of the special representative speaking and the detainee making a statement.

Please look forward a future post on the actual Rabbani hearing. Unfortunately, at this point, I will not be able to post based on personal observations in the closed DC-area hearing. I will need to wait until the public transcripts are posted online.

I will be able to gain some insights into the Rabanni proceedings from reading the posts of NGOs and media who have been cleared to attend. Individuals who have witnessed PRBs at DC location have been able to observe the demeanor of the detainee, hear him read his personal statement in his own voice, study his body language, and witness interaction between the detainee and his special representative. Much is missed when one is prohibited from observing PRBs with one’s own eyes in real time.

George Edwards


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