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.