For the better part of ½ year I have been seeking Pentagon permission to observe Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) at which a detainee is permitted to argue that he does not pose a threat to U.S. national security, and he should be repatriated to his home country or resettled in a 3rd country.
The Pentagon office responsible for selecting PRB observers sent me multiple informal denials, and requests for me to supplement my observer applications. Finally, after the series of written and oral requests, this morning the Pentagon notified me that I had “been approved to attend the PRB Unclassified Public session for Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush (ISN 708) on 14 July 2016 and Omar Mohammed Ali Al-Rammah (ISN 1017) on 21 July 2016”.
I was surprised. I would finally be permitted to observe a “parole” hearing to which close to 60 of the remaining 76 detainees at Guantanamo were entitled per a 2011 Executive Order. About 55 of these men had already had this particular type of PRB – their “initial review”. If a detainee is cleared for release after his initial review, he would have no additional hearings. If he is not cleared for release he would have a “file review” every six months. If he remains uncleared, he would have a “full review” every three years.
I was glad to be permitted to observe 2 of the remaining initial reviews, since there would soon be no more initial reviews. The PRB Project of the Gitmo Observer would benefit from its Director (me) being permitted to witness these final PRBs.
But, there were still hurdles to overcome before observing.
First, I had to sign a set of “Ground Rules for Coverage of Periodic Review Boards”, and agree not to be embargoed from disclosing “protected information” that might be revealed during the public portion of the PRB, not to bring any electronic devices into the room, not to draw or sketch the likeness of any participants, among other things.
Then, I had to await instructions on accessing the theretofore undisclosed location of the PRB observation.
For all of the PRBs, the detainee is physically in Guantanamo Bay. During the hearing, he sits at a table in a small room on the Guantanamo Base, flanked by a linguist, and his Government-appointed personal representative. If he has private counsel, I presume that that person sits at the table as well.
A video camera is pointed towards those sitting at the Guantanamo table, and at the appointed hour signals are sent to participants and observers at various locations. The “Board” itself, that conducts the PRBs, consists of 1 representative each from the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Presumably each of those representatives is watching remotely in his or her office in the DC area. In the past, the media and non-media observers would watch in a room in a Virginia building near the Pentagon.
I was told that I would receive instructions / directions tomorrow.
In the meantime, I am researching Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush (ISN 708), the detainee whose PRB is scheduled for this Thursday. He is from Libya, is around 47 or 48, and has been held at Guantanamo Bay for a month shy of 14 years. He is alleged to have had military training at an al-Qaida training camp, and engaged in other activities against the U.S.
I look forward to discovering more about him, about his background and about those involved in his PRB. It is possible that the Board will ask him or his personal representative questions, the answers of which might provide information not contained in the documents published on the PRB website (www.prs.mil) or elsewhere publicly available.
The New York Times has 5 documents related to this detainee, and prior reviews for possible release:
- Combat Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) Summary
- Administrative Review Board (ARBs) (3 documents)
- Joint Task Force – Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) Assessment
I will report back after this PRB.