Month: August 2016

Afghan money changer pleads for release from Guantanamo Bay

Haji Wali Mohammed, an Afghan money changer, seeks release from Guantanamo Bay

Haji Wali Mohammed, an Afghan money changer, seeks release from Guantanamo Bay

This morning an Afghan who traded currency with the Taliban formally asked the U.S. to release him from Guantanamo Bay after over 14 years of imprisonment.

Haji Wali Mohammad, who is referred to as “Wali Mohammed” or “Mr. Mohammed” by his U.S. Government personal representative and his private counsel, hopes that the PRB will find that he is not a threat to US national security, and that the U.S. Government will thus release him from Guantanamo Bay. A detainee may either be repatriated to his home country, or resettled to a third country.

There seems to be agreement across the board that Wali Mohammed operated a currency exchange business and conducted financial transactions in the 1990s, when the government of Afghanistan was under Taliban control, and that some of the transactions involved Taliban members or Taliban controlled entities, and there seems to be agreement that transactions with certain entities occurred before, during and after the Taliban was in control.

The U.S. government noted:

We assess with moderate confidence that AF-560 conducted financial transactions for Usama Bin Ladin in 1998 and 1999, either directly or through his ties to the Taliban, and was probably motivated by financial gain. We note identifying details for AF-560 have been corroborated, but there has been minimal reporting on AF-560’s transactions completed on behalf of Bin Ladin. Efforts to link AF-560 to Bin Ladin are complicated by several factors, including incomplete reporting, multiple individuals with AF-560’s name-Haji Wali Mohammad, and lack of post-capture reflections. AF-560 was captured on 24 January 2002.

The U.S. government continued:

AF-560 during his detention has never made statements clearly endorsing or supporting al·Qa’ida or other extremist ideology, but probably has a pragmatic view of the role the Taliban held in Afghanistan. He most likely judged that it was prudent to work with, rather than against, the Taliban Government in the 1990s. During his detention, AF-560 appears to have formed a more liberal view of politics in Afghanistan and has said the Taliban will have to change if they want to remain viable in the country, including changing their policy on women’s rights and education.

Countering, the Wali Mohammed’s private counsel contended:

Wali Mohammed’s business was currency exchange. He bought and sold currency in Pakistan and the UAE with the aim of capitalizing on differences in exchange rates. As he has freely admitted, in late 1997 and early 1998, he entered into a partnership to pursue such a currency arbitrage with the Central Bank of Afghanistan -then under the control of the Taliban government. As Wali Mohammed has said, and as an expert on his behalf confirmed ,such partnerships were commonplace before, during, and after the Taliban regime. Wali Mohammed described, and the expert confirms, the sudden and significant volatility in the value of the Pakistani rupee in 1998.

The result was a catastrophic loss -roughly a half-million of the $1.5 million the Central Bank had invested. After the Taliban government learned of the loss, investigators fired the head of the Central Bank, threatened Wali Mohammed with prison, actually imprisoned his cousin, and forced the entire loss on him – in violation of the terms of the deal. This is not the kind of treatment one would expect of someone who was part of or of any importance to the Taliban.

The disastrous failure of the Central Bank transaction also makes it implausible that Wali Mohammed conducted financial transactions for Osama Bin Ladin thereafter -leaving aside that Mr. Mohammed speaks little Arabic and bin Ladin spoke no Pashto. Two intelligence experts on behalf of Mr. Mohammed -one, the former Director of Human Intelligence Collection for the DIA; and the other, a former DIA intelligence analyst, identities expert, and, after the 9/11 attacks, a CIA contractor and charter member of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the National Counter Terrorism Center, and the Advanced Analytics Team -have shown, consistent with the Detainee Profile, that the identification of Mr. Mohammed is problematic .Even the late Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, reportedly carried a passport bearing the name “Wali Mohammed.”

This Periodic Review Board (PRB) was ordered pursuant to a 2-11 Executive Order for Guantanamo detainees.

Indiana McKinney involvement in this PRB

This morning’s PRB had no representation by the Periodic Review Board Project (PRBP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. To date, I am the sole individual from the PRBP monitoring PRBs on site, and I have attended several PRBs over the last several months. Postings about these PRBs can be found here.

We nominated Mr. Jeffrey Meding, a McKinney Juris Doctor graduate, to attend today’s hearings, but his request to attend and monitor has not been granted. We are in discussions with the Periodic Review Secretariat (www.prs.mil) further to seek permission for Mr. Meding to attend PRBs, and for others affiliated with our PRB project (PRBP) to attend, particularly when I am not able to attend.

As it happens, in any event, I did not receive my usual clearance from the Pentagon to attend today’s PRB, though I submitted my request to attend last week. Typically, a day or so before the PRB, the Pentagon sends cleared observers an e-mail with details about permissions, logistics, and rules. I did not receive such and e-mail yesterday before this morning’s (25th) scheduled PRB.

We look forward to clarity in the process, and full opportunities to cover PRBs, under one or more of the various categories of persons / entities permitted to observe PRBs – whether media, non-media NGO, non-media individual.

As I did not attend this morning’s hearings, at this point I do not know whether Wali Mohammed actually attended his PRB this morning, or indeed whether the PRB went forward as scheduled. I cannot comment on his apparent demeanor, his looks or clothing, his interaction or non-interaction with the others in the room, whether there were any technical or other difficulties, or anything else of note regarding this PRB. I cannot comment on the efficiency of our usual Pentagon escorts this morning, though it is likely that all went like clockwork, as is typical, from pickup at the Pentagon’s Visitor Center, through badge clearances, winding-hall walking, and escort to the Pentagon’s exit post-hearing.

But as for the PRB hearings themselves, reading the text of submitted documents before the hearings does not provide a full picture of the hearing. Reading transcripts post-hearings does not provide a full picture of the hearing. Reading news reports or postings by NGOs also does not offer a full picture of the hearing. Short of being present in the PRB room at Guantanamo Bay, the best place to observe PRB hearings is in the closed, secure conference room at the Pentagon. In that room, you can see and hear in a way that is more helpful than just reading.

Standing in front of Camp Justice.

Jeff Meding in front of GTMO’s Camp Justice.

Mr. Meding was the first Indiana University McKinney Affiliate to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on behalf of the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP) of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

Mr. Meding’s PRB participation on behalf of the McKinney Law School’s PBRP was approved by the MCOP Advisory Council. Furthermore, the Office of General Counsel of Indiana University cleared our Pentagon travelers for PRB purposes. We now await the Pentagon’s grant of permission for us to send IU McKinney Affiliates to observe PRBs at the Pentagon.

Again, we hope that we receive permission to have full representation at the PRBs that are being broadcast to the Pentagon, typically on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

My PRB posts

Many of my PRB postings can be found here:

https://gitmoobserver.com/blog/

Jeffrey Meding’s Guantanamo Bay posts

Following are some posts by Jeff Meding from his 2012 mission to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor U.S. Military Commission hearings on behalf of the Military Commission Observation Project of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law:

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/03/21/gtmo-impressions-jeff-meding-2/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/12/12-april-2014/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/14/14-april-2014-1st-day-of-hearings/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/15/15-april-2014-2nd-day-of-hearings/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/17/16-april-2014-hearing-adjourned-until-thursday/

https://gitmoobserver.com/2014/04/18/17-april-2014-final-day-of-hearings-selected-pics/

Additional PRB & PRBP Information

Additional information about PRBs can be found here:

https://gitmoobserver.com/blog/

Additional Information abour the Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board Project can be found at:

https://gitmoobserver.com/prbs/

 

PS:  The full U.S. government unclassified statement on Wali Mohammed is here:

 

The full Personal Representative Statement & Private Counsel Statement are here:

By George Edwards

Saudi-born Palestinian Abu Zubaydah asks Pentagon for release from Guantanamo

Abu Zubaydah - Eye patch -- darker - facing front

Abu Zubaydah apparently lost his left eye while in U.S. custody.

For the first time in almost 15 years, the outside world saw the face of war crimes suspect Abu Zubaydah. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, awarded $100,000 Euros damages from Poland for torture in U.S. / CIA black sites, lost his left eye while in U.S. custody, and was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006.

At this morning’s Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing, Abu Zubaydah and his pentagon-appointed personal representatives formally tried to convince the U.S. government that he is not a threat to U.S. national security. They asked the U.S. to release him from Guantanamo.

The hearing was held in the back corner of a Guantanamo Bay courtroom, but was broadcast live to a nondescript Pentagon conference room. Instead of the typical handful of media and human rights workers attending at the Pentagon, today we had 15 – more than I’ve seen at any other PRB.  Maybe this was because of Abu Zubaydah’s reputation, the loss of his eye, or the extreme extent of his alleged criminal activities over many years, coupled with his proved torture and his being cloistered in U.S. custody for 1/3 of his life. The conference room was full. All wanted the first glimpses of Abu Zubaydah in 15 years.

Who is Abu Zubaydah?

Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian, was born in Saudi Arabia in March 1971. The U.S. government does not clearly indicate when they believe he became involved in terrorism or war crimes activities, but the U.S. alleges that he trained militant recruits in Afghanistan as early as 1989, when Abu Zubaydah was a late teen, early adult.

The U.S. alleges that he perpetrated international crimes over many years in different jurisdictions. These include involvement in the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998, the USS Cole bombing off the coast of Yemen in 2002, and other atrocities.

Abu Zubaydah - Eye patch -- lighter - facing left

Abu Zubaydah — Apparently with both eyes.

Abu Zubaydah kept diaries for approximately 10 years, ending around the time he was captured in Pakistan, in 2002. Those diaries tell his story in his own words.

On 24 July 2014 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Poland government to pay Abu Zubaydah 100,000 euros in damages and 30,000 euros for costs because Poland permitted the CIA to detain and torture him in Poland in 2002 – 2003.

This morning’s PRB hearing.

 As usual, I arrived at the Pentagon before 8:00 a.m., cleared through the first round of security (badging, metal detectors), and spotted a group of other regular observers, waiting for our Periodic Review Secretariat escorts.

This time, I noticed a several other people, whom I did not know, hovering around the regular observers.  In addition, it was a treat to see two media reps I met on my recent media trip to Guantanamo Bay.

The escorts arrived as scheduled, ready to take us through the next round of the building’s security, and the maze that leads to the conference room where this high-value detainee (HVD) alleged war criminal would appear on TV monitors at 9:00 a.m.

It took a little extra maneuvering to get of us all through the main internal Pentagon portal.

Today we had 5 human rights workers, academics or authors in our Observer group, along with 10 media representatives (al Jazeera, Courthouse News, NPR, AP, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the Miami Herald, the Intercept, and the Washington Post). No representatives of the Saudi Arabian government or the Palestinian government were present.

We deposited our cell phones and cameras on a table outside the conference room, and filed in. Some of the Observer have attended dozens of PRBs, and have favorite seats.

We filled out a form swearing that we had indeed left our cell phones and cameras outside the room.

In the middle of the room is a large conference table, on top of which sits an octopus-like device that houses the phone line to connect us to Guantanamo. Today a Pentagon official (our escort) designated me as the person to answer the conference room phone when Guantanamo called to start the PRB connection, to adjust the volume if necessary, and to mute the speaker. I followed instructions when the phone rang at 9:01 a.m.

The History Channel that we had been watching on the big screen was switched off, and all eyes stared at an empty chair on the screen, broadcast live from the Guantanamo Bay courtroom.  It was the chair where the judge sits during regular Military Commission hearings. PRBs are not judicial proceedings, there is no judge present, and there is no need for them to be conducted in a courtroom. Indeed, most PRBs have been conducted in trailer-like structures very close to where most of the detainees are housed. For reasons unknown to observers, high value detainee PRBs are held in the courtroom.

After about a minute, we lost sound. We lost visuals. We lost our Guantanamo connection. Our escort exchanged chat messages with Guantanamo, and we were told to hold tight.

For the next 16 minutes, we sat in the conference room, engaging in nervous chatter. Would the hearing go forward even if the Pentagon observers couldn’t see and hear the proceedings? What if we could hear but not see the hearings, or see but not hear them? Would they postpone them until we could both see and hear? Would they start without us if the reconnection took too long?

The name Abu Zubaydah is a household name, at least for those of us involved in the national security arena. Many had been waiting for years to see him face to face, after his being under cloak of confinement for so long.

At 9:17, a picture of the four Guantanamo participants appeared on our Pentagon big screen.

Abu Zubaydah - Eye patch -- with both eyes

Purportedly a photo of Abu Zubaydah

Abu Zubaydah sat at the head of a narrow rectangular table, directly facing the camera – that is, directly facing us who were viewing the hearing at the Pentagon. To his right, sitting along the long side of the table, were his two camouflage-clad Pentagon-appointed personal representatives (one of whom appeared to be the same personal representative who represented both detainees whose PRBs I attended last week, in this same Pentagon room). Directly across from the 2 representatives was the interpreter, a balding middle-aged dark-olive-skinned man, with a short brown tropical shirt.

Some of the words spoken during the hearing were in Arabic, and were spoken by the on-camera interpreter.

An off camera voice, presumably from but not necessarily from Guantanamo, advised in English on the nature of the hearing, the format, and the short agenda.

Another off camera voice read aloud an “unclassified summary statement”, in English, of behavior that Abu Zubaydah allegedly engaged in, both before he arrived at Guantanamo and after he arrived. (See comment below.)

After the government’s unclassified summary statement, one of the two personal representatives read an opening statement in English.

After both statements, an off camera voice asked if anyone had any questions. There were none.

The unclassified portion of the hearing ended roughly 14 minutes and 32 seconds after it started. Observers were invited to leave the conference room, since Observers are not permitted to observe classified portions of the PRB hearings.

Government’s Unclassified Summary Statement

As mentioned, during the hearing, the government submitted an “unclassified summary” statement that an off-camera voice read aloud.

That statement listed a number of unlawful activities allegedly engaged in by Abu Zubaydah, and alleged that Abu Zubaydah:

  • “possibly had some advanced knowledge of the bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the USS Cole bombing in ”
  • Was “generally aware of the impending 9/11 attacks and possibly coordinated the training at Khaldan camp of two of the hijackers”
  • “most actively plotted attacks against Israel” at home and abroad
  • “was convicted in absentia by the Jordanian Government for his role in planning attacks against Israeli, Jordanian, and Western targets during the Millennium time frame in Jordan” and
  • post-9/11, allegedly “took a more active role in attack preparations, sending operatives to al-Qa’ida senior member Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-I 0024) to discuss the feasibility of exploding a radiological device in the United States, and supporting remote-controlled bomb attacks against US and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan “.

The government’s statement asserted that:

[abu Zubaydah] has shown a high level of cooperation with the staff at Guantanamo Bay and has served as a cell block leader, assuming responsibility for communicating detainees’ messages and grievances to the staff and maintaining order among the detainees. He readily and consistently responded to most if not all lines of                 questioning by the debriefers, including providing detailed information on his terrorist activities and those of his associates. His debriefers assessed that he withheld information, which might have been to protect historical or current activities. GZ-10016 has used his time in Guantanamo to hone his organizational skills, assess US custodial and debriefing practices, and solidify his reputation as a leader of his peers, all of which would help him should he choose to reengage in terrorist activity.

Furthermore, the government’s statement noted that:

OZ-I 0016 probably retains an extremist mindset, judging from his earlier statements. GZ-10016 has not made such statements recently, probably to improve his chances for repatriation . GZ-10016 has condemned ISIL atrocities and the killing of innocent people. He has had little communication with his family, suggesting he  would lack a support network, even if he tried to leverage his university coursework in computer programming to get a job and reintegrate into society. Some of GZ-100 I 6’s former colleagues continue to engage in terrorist activities and could help GZ-10016 return to planning attacks against Israel and the United States in Pakistan, should he choose to do so.”

Personal Representatives’ Opening Statement

The Personal Representative Opening Statement of the two personal representatives is reproduced here in its entirety:

 UNCLASSIFIED

Approved for Public Release

 

Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 23 Aug 2016 Zayn Al-Ibidin Muhammed Busayn, ISN 10016 Personal Representative Opening Statement

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the Board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN 10016, Mr. Zayn al-Ibidin Muhammed Husayn. We will be working with Zeinelabeden to present his case to you on why he no longer needs to be detained in order to ensure that the security of the United States is not in jeopardy.

Although he initially believed that he did not have any chance or hope to be released, because of the reputation that has been created through the use of his name, he has been willing to participate in the Periodic Review Process. He has been respectful to us in all of our meetings and dealings with him, and he has come to believe that he might have a chance to leave Guantanamo through this process.

Zeinelabeden has expressed a desire to be reunited with his family and begin the process of recovering from injuries he sustained during his capture. He has some seed money that could be used to start a business after he is reintegrated into society and is living a peaceful life.

Zeinelabeden has stated that he has no desire or intent to harm the United States or any other country, and he has repeatedly said that the Islamic State is out of control and has gone too far.

Zeinelabeden would like to thank the board for this opportunity to plead his case and looks forward to answering any questions the board may ask him.

Observations of Abu Zubaydah at today’s PRB hearing

Until today, no member of the public has seen Abu Zubaydah since he was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. After arrest, he was immediately taken to a CIA black site and remained in CIA custody until September 2006, when he was delivered to Guantanamo, exactly 10 years ago next month (September 2016).

Photographs of him in custody are generally not permitted (with the exception of Red Cross and file photos), and we were not able to take photos of him at the Pentagon today. Even if we were permitted to sketch him, there would not have been enough time, given that today’s hearing last only 14 ½ minutes.

But I can say that Abu Zubaydah appeared to be of sturdy build, with a full face covered with a healthy closely cropped, dark, kempt beard.

The hair on his head was dark, full, stylish, as though neatly and well-trimmed for today’s hearing.

He wore a high-collared white seemingly starched tunic-like top, ¾ sleeved, pleated in front. It looked like a fine, dress garment, unlike ordinary household or prison clothing worn by some of the other detainees during their hearings or during their day-to-day life at Guantanamo Bay.

Strikingly, hanging from a cord around Abu Zubaydah’s neck throughout the hearing appeared to be his round, black eye patch, several inches in diameter – apparently bigger than his left eye, which he purportedly lost while in U.S. custody.

At first glance, it looked like an old-fashioned round microphone, perched in front of him, chest level as he sat at the head of the table. But it did not take long to recognize that it appeared to be more like a round hip hop medallion, but jet black and cloth, not a glistening metallic gold. The ornament’s blackness contrasted brilliantly with Abu Zubaydah’s bright white top.

With the stories that circulated about the loss of his eye and the circumstances of that loss, it was of curiosity as to why his eye patch would be nestled in the white fabric in the center of his chest, and not covering his left eye socket.

When the hearing began, Abu Zubaydah wore metal-framed eyeglasses, silver-looking, fashionably shaped – not regularly round or regularly rectangular, but with molded angles. From time to time he dabbed beneath his eyes, and his forehead, with a neatly rectangularly-folded handkerchief he would shift from his right hand to left, and back.

At one point he lifted his eyeglasses, and deliberately rubbed his right eye (his only eye) with his hand, as if to scratch or console. Or was it to draw attention to his eye, on which perhaps many in the room were focusing anyway?

The blink of his right eye was visible through his glasses. There appeared to be no movement from his left eye socket, which was visible, albeit not too clearly, when he removed his glasses.

Abu Zubaydah appeared intently to follow the proceedings, paying rapt attention, though at times his actions could be perhaps interpreted as reflecting a lack of interest, for example, when he would rest his right arm on the armrest or table, put his index finger to his temple, his thumb to his chin, and his middle finger to his lips — as though bored.

When the off-camera U.S. government male voice began reading in English the government’s unclassified statement about Abu Zubaydah, he began searching through documents apparently looking for a copy of the document, which one of his personal representatives pointed out for him.

He accepted the document, then placed it on the table in front of him. He took off his glasses, reached forward and picked up a second pair of wire-rimmed glasses, and swapped them out. Perhaps one pair of glasses was for distance, and the other was for reading. I had seen detainees at hearings with glasses, but never with two pair, swapping out as called for by the situation.

As the 15 observers left the conference room after the hearing, words like “handsome”, “striking”, “good looking”, “not so disheveled like you might expect”, “well-groomed”, “nicely dressed” could be heard, describing someone who is alleged to have perpetrated unspeakable crimes against humankind, but who looked as though this morning he could have been participating in any sort of a business meeting – lease signing, mortgage loan closing or other corporate transaction – given the manner in which he was dressed, how he comported himself, and how he sat at the head of the table and commanded the audience of the personal representatives and the interpreter who straddled the sides of the conference table.

But, Abu Zubaydah is not being judged by his looks, his clothes, his hair, or his mannerisms. Regarding the PRB, he will be judged by what was revealed in the public portion of the PRB, and presumably what is covered in the classified portion of the PRB, which was scheduled to commence 15 minutes after the public portion.

Next steps

The PRB – which comprises one representative each from the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice and Defense; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Security – will deliberate and determine whether they believe that Abu Zubaydah poses a threat to the national security of the U.S.

The PRB will likely render its assessment soon. You can check www.prs.mil (under “initial reviews”) for updates.

By George Edwards,

Professor of Law, Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Faculty Director (Founding), Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) Project

Faculty Director (Founding), U.S. Military Commission Observation Project

 

 

PS:  Like last week, during the PRB a narrow, stream of light shined vertically down the large viewing screen today, whispering through cracked blinds of the Pentagon room. I’d forgotten to ask that the blinds be fully closed to maximize the observers ability to observe.

 

PPS:  Photos are from various websites. Citations available.

Alleged Bali Bomber’s Guantanamo Hearing Viewed at the Pentagon Today

PRB -- Hambali - hambali Riduan Isamuddin

Indonesian born “Hambali”, also known as “Asia’s Osama bin Laden”. He allegedly plotted the 2002 Bali bombing.

One of the 61 detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay is Indonesian-born Riduan Issamuddin, also known as “Hambali” or as “Asia’s Osama bin Laden”. He allegedly plotted the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

This morning Hambali appeared at a formal hearing in which he and his pentagon-appointed personal representatives asked the U.S. government to release him from Guantanamo. The hearing, called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), was held in a back corner of a Guantanamo courtroom, and broadcast by live video-feed to a Pentagon conference room. I and a dozen or so others traveled to the Pentagon and watched and listened.

Who is Hambali

Bali-bombings-in-2002-with-great-destruction

The 2002 Bali nightclub bombing killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Hambali, who is 52 years of age, was born in the small Indonesian village of Sukamanah in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia. As a young adult, he moved to Malaysia, and then, after apparently receiving a calling, fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan and the Philippine army in Mindanao. He eventually became one of the most wanted terrorist suspect in all of Southeast Asia.

Hambali purportedly became operations chief for a militant group known as Jemaah Islamiah (JI). As a senior member of JI, Hambali allegedly served as a liaison between JI and al Qaeda.

Another scene from the Bali bombing.

Another scene from the Bali bombing.

In addition to being an alleged plotter of the Bali nightclub bombing, he is alleged to have plotted the 2003 JW Marriott bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Hambali has also been accused of participating in a plot to put explosives on planes bound for the U.S., and of playing a supporting role (handling some finances) in the 9/11 attacks.

Hambali was arrested in August 2003 in Thailand, and spent over 3 years in CIA custody – in black sites – where he was subjected to water boarding (83 times in one month), nakedness for extended periods, stress positions with hands cuffed to a hook in the ceiling, being blindfolded with a sack over his head, and other tactics.

The 2003 JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia, also caused great destruction.

The 2003 JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia, also caused great destruction.

One might expect Hambali’s “nickname” of Hambali to be linked to Bali, Indonesia, the sight of the horrific 2012 Bali bombing, but that may not be the case.

It has been reported that:

“Security officials in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines add that “Hambali”, a nom de guerre taken from Imam Hambali, a famous 8th-century Islamic saint, is also linked to attacks in the region that started with the Christmas bombings of churches in Indonesia in December 2000 and the subsequent bombings in the Philippines. “ (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/EH19Ae06.html)

A JW Marriott restaurant after the bombing.

A JW Marriott restaurant after the bombing.

The PRB hearing this morning.

 As usual, I arrive at the Pentagon before 8:00 a.m., cleared through the first round of security (badging, metal detectors), and joined a group of other regular observers, waiting for our Periodic Review Secretariat escorts.

The escorts arrived on scheduled, ready to take us through the next round of the building’s security, and the maze that leads to the non-descript conference room where Asia’s once most notorious alleged terrorist would appear on TV monitors at 9:00 a.m.

Today there were 5 human rights workers or academics present in our Observer group, along with 4 journalists (al Jazeera, Courthouse News, AP, and Straights Times Singapore). There were no representatives of the Indonesian government, there to witness the hearing on behalf of their citizen.

We deposited our cell phones and cameras on a table outside the room, and filed into the room. Some of the Observer have attended dozens of PRBs, and almost have assigned seats in the viewing room.

After we sat, we filled out a form swearing that we had indeed left our cell phones and cameras outside the room.

On a big screen in the front of the room, we watched a few minutes of the History Channel before the conference table phone rang to alert us that the hearing was beginning.

At 9:02, the History Channel was switched off, and all eyes in the room descended upon Hambali, live from the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Hambali sat at the head of a narrow rectangular table, directly facing the camera – that is, directly facing us who were viewing the hearing at the Pentagon. To his right, sitting along the long side of the table, were his two camouflage-clad Pentagon-appointed personal representatives (who also appeared to be the same personal representatives who represented on behalf of the detainee whose PRB I attended 2 days previous, in this same Pentagon room). Directly across from the 2 representatives was the interpreter, with head wrapped so full with a blue flowery scarf that not one inch of her face showed throughout the entire hearing.

One off camera voice, presumably from but not necessarily from Guantanamo, advised on the nature of the hearing, the format, and the short agenda.

Another off camera voice read aloud an “unclassified summary statement” of behavior that Hambali allegedly engaged in, both before he arrived at Guantanamo and after he arrived. (See comment below.)

After the government’s unclassified summary statement, one of the two personal representatives read an opening statement.

After both statements, an off camera voice asked if anyone had any questions. There were none.

The unclassified portion of hearing ended at 9:12, roughly 10 minutes after it started. Observers were invited to leave the conference room, since Observers are not permitted to observe classified portions of the PRB hearings.

Hambali -- Changing facesGovernment’s Unclassified Summary Statement

The government submitted an “unclassified summary” statement, that an off-camera voice read aloud during the hearing.

It listed out a number of unlawful activities allegedly engaged in by Hambali, including associated with the Bali Bombing of 2002, the JW Marriott bombing of 2003, and the 9/11 attacks.

Regarding his behavior while at Guantanamo, the government’s statement noted

[Hambali] has mostly been compliant at Guantanamo Bay, having committed a low number of infractions relative to other detainees. [Hambali] has emerged as a mentor and teacher to his fellow detainees, seemingly exerting influence over them and has been heard promoting violent jihad while leading daily prayers and lectures.

The government’s statement concluded:

We judge that [Hambali] remains steadfast in his support for extremist causes and his hatred for the US. He most likely would look for ways to reconnect with his Indonesian and Malaysian cohorts or attract a new set of followers if he were transferred from Guantanamo Bay. He is close to his family and probably would quickly contact them as well, but we do not know if they would be able to support him financially. Hambali’s younger brother Rusman Gunawan has emerged as part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s(ISIL) Indonesia-based network.

Personal Representatives’ Opening Statement

 The Personal Representative Opening Statement of the two personal representatives is reproduced here in its entirety:

PERIODIC REVIEW BOARD INITIAL HEARING, 18 AUG 2016 ENCEP NURJAMAN HAMBALI, ISN 10019

PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OPENING STATEMENT

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the Board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN 10019, Encep Nurjaman Hambali.

Hambali has attended all scheduled meetings. During these meetings he has been respectful and energetic. He has been most enthused about his PRB. He always smiles and never hesitates to answer any questions we have.

During his time in detention he has learned English, some from his interaction with JTF Staff and some from Rosetta Stone. He also taught himself Arabic, which he then held classes to help teach his fellow detainees.  He went so far as to have homework and tests for them.  His father and uncles were all teachers, so it came naturally for him.

When programs were offered, he was eager to attend. He enjoys watching the programs Planet Life, Blue Planet and also enjoys the great courses on DVD’s.

Hambali has stated he has no ill will towards the U.S. He believes America has diversity and sharing of power which is much better than a dictatorship. He states that he wants nothing more than to move on with his life and be peaceful.  He hopes to remarry and have children to raise.

We stand ready to answer any questions you may have.

 Observations of Hambali at today’s PRB hearing

Since Hambali was arrested in Thailand in 2003 – when he was held for over 3 years in CIA black sites and over 9 years at Guantanamo – virtually no members of the public have seen Hambali. Photographs of him are not permitted. Even if those of us who have seen him at hearings were permitted to sketch him, there would not enough time, given that, for example, today’s hearing last only 10 minutes.

But I can say that Hambali appeared to be of sturdy build, with a full face covered with a healthy but medium-length beard, ¼ of which was dark and close to his skin, with the remaining white or gray barely touching his upper chest when he leaned forward. His sideburns appeared to be tufted, and not as full as his beard, mixed mostly dark with some white.

His hair was dark, stylish, parted on the left, with windows of slight recession on the left and right forehead.

He wore dark Clark Kent eyeglass, that gave the impression of being thick, and his eyebrows rose above the rims, whether he was looking down at his papers or whether he was looking up towards the camera, as he occasionally did.

Hambali wore a short sleeved white top, and sat erect, though he leaned slightly forward throughout the hearing, except for when he occasionally reached down to touch his left thigh or leg. Was he in pain or just uncomfortable? He did not shift around in his chair, as some detainees have done at their PRBs.

His eyes focused intently on a small stack of white and yellow papers he shifted from one stack to the other, and back again, even while the interpreter was speaking to him in a language he understood. On the one hand, it looked like he was following the proceedings intently, with a serious, firm face. But, that face continued whether an off camera voice was speaking in English, his representative was speaking English, or the interpreter was speaking his own language.

A narrow, stream of light shined vertically down the large viewing screen today, whispering through cracked blinds of the Pentagon room. Note to self – ask if the blinds can be totally shut for the PRB hearing next Tuesday – for Abu Zubaydah, who as a high value detainee has also not been seen by any member of the public in over a decade.

Next steps

The PRB – which comprises one representative each from the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice and Defense; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Security – will deliberate and determine whether they believe that Hambali poses a threat to the national security of the U.S.

The PRB will likely render its assessment soon. You can check www.prs.mil (under “initial reviews”) for updates.

When the PRB assess whether Hambali poses a significant threat to the national security of the U.S., how much deference will the PRB give to the following portion of the government’s unclassified statement?

We judge that [Hambali] remains steadfast in his support for extremist causes and his hatred for the US. He most likely would look for ways to reconnect with his Indonesian and Malaysian cohorts or attract a new set of followers if he were transferred from Guantanamo Bay. He is close to his family and probably would quickly contact them as well, but we do not know if they would be able to support him financially. Hambali’s younger brother Rusman Gunawan has emerged as part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s(ISIL) Indonesia-based network.

We will need to wait until the PRB posts its decision on http://www.prs.mil.

My weekend at Guantanamo Bay – Business as usual then 20 percent of detainees released

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Guantanamo camp 6. Prayer time on Saturday, 13 August 2016. Photo by George Edwards.

This past weekend while 15 detainees were packing their bags for their one-way flight from Guantanamo Bay to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for resettlement, much of the rest of the remote island prison was business as usual. I was at the base from about noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday, 13 and 14 August, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Then, the prison population dropped 20% in size with a plane load of detainees released.

This weekend, most detainees in Guantanamo Bay camps 5 and 6 ate their meals on schedule, enjoyed indoor and outdoor recreation, interacted with each other in communal areas or isolated in their cells, and prayed facing Mecca 5 times each day. I was able to see a few detainees through the one-way mirrors between detainees in Camp 6 and the cell’s hub, where guards may keep a watchful eye unseen by the detainees. Detainees were presumably unaware that someone other than guards were in the hub, observing and taking photos. I understand that they can see camera flashes from the inside looking out, which is why flashes are prohibited on cameras.

Prayer in communal area, wedged in between plastic white chairs and a green overstuffed couch. Photo by George Edwards - 13 August 2016 -- Camp 6, Gitmo.

Prayer in communal area, wedged in between plastic white chairs and a green overstuffed couch. Photo by George Edwards – 13 August 2016 — Camp 6, Gitmo.

Prayer time

The Muslim detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay are permitted openly to prayer  as they wish, but no fewer than 5 times per day. Arrows on the floor of cells, communal rooms, and other facilities point towards Mecca. Prayer rugs are provided to each detainee, as as copies of the Koran in Arabic and other languages. Court sessions, hearings, and other activities are halted at pre-determined prayer times each day.

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Camp Delta shines under the early morning sun at Guantanamo Bay. Silhouettes of media in the foreground.Photo by George Edwards, 14 August 2016.

Sunrise at Guantanamo Bay

My driver picked me up at 5:30 on Sunday morning. I wanted to try to catch the sun rise over the Camp Delta, where the majority of the 61 remaining detainees are being held.

I angled for a shot that would show the depth of the camp, which extends many yards into the distance, and capture the barbed wire in the foreground and guard posts, vanishing in the pinpoint perspective, with the early morning sun rays piercing through the clouds.

Sunday morning at Guantanamo Bay with Rear Admiral Peter J. Clark, Commander, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). He is responsible for all 2,100 men and women serving at JTF-GTMO, which is charged with "Safe, Humane, Legal, and Transparent care and custody of law of war detainees".

Sunday morning at Guantanamo Bay with Rear Admiral Peter J. Clark, Commander, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). Photo taken Sunday, 14 August 2016, about 8:15 a.m., at Guantanamo Bay.

Prison population down from 76 to 61

On Sunday, 14 August 2016, I was able to speak with Rear Admiral Peter Clarke, who briefed on the state of affairs at Guantanamo, answering a series of questions from 5 media representatives. Admiral Clarke is responsible for all 2,100 men and women serving at JTF-GTMO, which is charged with “Safe, Humane, Legal, and Transparent care and custody of law of war detainees”

Admiral Clarke did not mention that plans were in place for the imminent release of 12 Yemeni and 3 Afghan detainees, all bound for resettlement in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

While I was at Guantanamo Bay this weekend, the prison population dropped by 20%, with the 15 detainees released to the UAE. When I arrived at Guantanamo on Saturday noon on the 13th, the prison held 76 detainees. The current population stands at 61, of whom 7 face charges, 20 are cleared for release, 1 is convicted, and others who have not been cleared for release after a new hearing or have not yet faced a new hearing.

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Another sunrise shot of Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Sunday, 14 August 2016, 6:00 a.m. — Photo by George Edwards

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Libyan Detainee Skips Guantanamo Bay Parole Hearing

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The PRB for al Libbi is scheduled for Tuesday, 16 August 2016.

Today a Libyan detainee had an opportunity to formally ask a Guantanamo Bay panel to release him from the remote island prison. But the detainee, nicknamed “al Libbi”, did not show up for the hearing, which proceeded without him.

The hearing — called a Periodic Review Board (PRB) — opened at 9:02 a.m. in a back corner of the main Guantanamo Bay courtroom. From my perch in a Pentagon conference room where the hearing was broadcast live via secure link, I could see al Libbi’s empty short-backed chair, tucked under a table on which sat a tall personal unused microphone.

Seated at the table were al Libbi’s personal representatives”, in U.S. military uniforms, who had been appointed by the U.S. government. There was no interpreter, as there was nothing to interpret and no one for whom to interpret. And, there was no personal private counsel, as al Libbi apparently has no lawyer.

Other images visible on the large Pentagon video screen were a few items on the narrow table top at which the representatives sat, and the blank white walls of a narrow slice of the courtroom.

Record short PRB

The Pentagon has conducted around 50 or so PRBs. They have tended to last about 20 or more minutes each, with the government reading an unclassified summary about the detainee, followed by the personal representatives speaking on behalf of the detainee, and concluding with questions that members of the PRB might have for the personal representatives.

Today’s PRB lasted about 7 minutes, from approximately 9:02 to 9:07. Others in the room with me said that this was likely the shortest of the dozens of PRBs they have attended.

If al Libbi is cleared for release after his initial review today, 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.

PRBs are authorized by President Obama’s March 2011 executive order. If a PRB determines that a detainee is not a threat to the national security of the U.S., the detainee becomes cleared for release. If deemed a continuing threat, the detainee stays at Guantanamo, but is entitled to subsequent PRBs.

PRBs do not assess the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and are not criminal proceedings.

Who is al Libbi?

al Libbi’s full name is Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Masud al-Jadid al-Uzaybi, and he is registered at Guantanamo Bay as ISN 10017.

He hails from Libya, and is an alleged high-level member of al Qaeda. He was arrested near Peshawar, Pakistan, following his detention at a secret camp previously. He is alleged to have at one point been the 4th highest-ranking member of al Qaeda.

Al Libbi is considered to be an HVD (“High Value Detainee”), as compared to the LVD’s (“Low Value Detainee”).

Detainees released after PRBs

About 45 the 61 men remaining captive at Guantanamo are entitled to PRBs per the rules, and about 40 have had an initial review. Many who have had initial reviews were subsequently cleared for release, and many of those have actually been released post-initial review, including a number who were repatriated to the United Arab Emirates, reportedly on Saturday, 13 August 2016, while I was on a 2-day tour of Guantanamo Bay detention facilities.

As of today, 61 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay, with 15 being released over the weekend.

Libyan “High Value Detainee” to have parole hearing at Guantanamo Bay

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The PRB for al Libbi is scheduled for Tuesday, 16 August 2016.

On Tuesday, 16 August 2016, a board related to Guantanamo Bay will conduct a hearing to determine whether Guantanamo detainee Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Masud al-Jadid al-Uzaybi (ISN 10017)  (also known as “al Libbi”) poses an ongoing threat to the national security of the U.S. If he is deemed not to be such a threat, he may be released from Guantanamo Bay.

Al Libbi, who hails from Libya, is an alleged high-level member of al Qaeda. He was arrested near Peshawar, Pakiston, following his detention at a secret camp previously. He is alleged to have at one point been the 4th highest-ranking member of al Qaeda.

Al Libbi is considered to be an HVD (“High Value Detainee”), as compared to the LVD’s (“Low Value Detainee”).

The ‘hearing” is officially known as a “Periodic Review Board”, and has authority flowing from a Presidential Executive Order Number 13567, dated 7 March  2011, which has required most detainees to have a “periodic review” of their detention status. This will be was al Libbi’s “initial review” (or “initial PR”).

This PRB will be held in the primary courtroom in Guantanamo Bay, inside the Expeditionary Legal Complex, but will be broadcast by secure video-link to secret locations at the Pentagon and elsewhere within the U.S. Government. I plan to view it at the Pentagon.

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.

About 45 the 61 men remaining captive at Guantanamo are entitled to PRBs per the rules, and about 40 have had an initial review. Many who have had initial reviews were subsequently cleared for release, and many of those have actually been released post-initial review, including a number who were repatriated to the United Arab Emirates on Monday, 15 August 2016.

PRBs do not assess the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and are not criminal proceedings.

As of today, 61 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay, with 15 being released over the weekend.

Guantanamo has 61 prisoners left after 15 released

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Sunrise over Guantanamo Bay detention camps on Sunday, 14 August 2016.  Fifteen detainees gained their freedom this weekend. Photo by George Edwards.

Today the Pentagon announced that 15 detainees were transferred for resettlement from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the United Arab Emirates.

Six of the detainees were released after a “comprehensive review” pursuant to President Obama’s 22 January 2009 executive order, by the Guantanamo Review Task Force. This task force, comprising six departments and agencies, unanimously approved release of the following 6 detainees:  al-Busi, Sulayman, Kazaz, al-Muhajari, al-Adahi, and al-Mudafari.

The other nine detainees were released following Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), authorized by President Obama’s 2011 executive order, that calls representatives of 6 departments or agencies to assess if continued detention “remain[s] necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States”. These 9 detainees are:  al-Mujahid, Jarabh, Kamin, bin Hamdoun, al-Razak (aka Haji Hamidullah), Ahmed, Salih, Obaidullah, and al-Marwalah does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. As a result of those reviews, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, al-Mujahid, Jarabh, Kamin, bin Hamdoun, al-Razak (aka Haji Hamidullah), Ahmed, Salih, Obaidullah, and al-Marwalah were recommended for transfer by consensus of the six departments and agencies comprising the Periodic Review Board.

PRBs consist of representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

My visit to Guantanamo Bay this weekend

I was at Guantanamo Bay yesterday, Sunday the 14th, and was briefed by the Chief of the Joint Detention Group, Rear Admiral Clarke. The topic of reduction in number of detainees was discussed. However, he did not mention that the number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay was that weekend decreasing by 20%, from 76 detainees on Friday to only 61 detainees by Monday.

He and others we met with on Saturday and Sunday did discuss the justification for having almost 2000 Joint Detention Force personal for fewer than 100 detains, and that is because staffing is linked in part to structures and facilities, and not linked specifically to individual detainees or the number of individual detainees.