On Tuesday, 28 February 2017, Abdu Ali al Haji Sharqawi, who is a Guantanamo Bay detainee from Yemen, will appear at a hearing at which he will likely tell U.S. officials that he is not a threat to U.S. national security and that he should be resettled in a 3rd country.
Sharqawi, who is 43 years of age, was picked up in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, one month after the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay. He arrived in Guantanamo Bay in 2004, after 3 years in custody under the direction of the U.S., first in Jordan then Afghanistan. It is alleged that he was tortured in Jordan and Afghanistan.
On Tuesday he will argue for his freedom from the incarceration he has endured for almost a third of his life.
The hearing – a Periodic Review Board – PRB
This hearing at which Sharqawi will argue is called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), and will be conducted pursuant to a 7 March 2011 Executive Order (number 13567) which has required most detainees to have a “periodic review” of their detention status.
The PRB process is a “discretionary administrative interagency process to review whether continued detention of particular individuals held at Guantanamo remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” Per the Executive Order, PRBs are not intended to ascertain the legality of a prisoner’s detention. To the contrary, it has been stated, it decides whether continued detention is warranted given “important” interests.
Each detainee receives an “initial PRB” at which they have the option of appearing in their own behalf. If they are not released, every 6 months they have a “file review,” at which they are not entitled to appear, with decisions made based on their file. Per the Executive Order, every 3 years after that they have a “full review”, at which the detainee may again appear on his own behalf.
The Board itself consists of one 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.
The hearing will be held at Guantanamo Bay, but will be transmitted by CCTV to secure locations to permit review by participants and cleared persons who are not physically in the Guantanamo Bay hearing room. I plan to view from a secure room in the Pentagon.
Sharqawi’s PRB hearings
- Initial Review. Sharqawi had a PRB initial review on 15 March 2016, and on 14 April 2016 the Board concluded:
The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.
In making this determination, the Board considered that the detainee developed ties to senior al-Qaida leaders such as Usama Bin Laden and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, associated with al-Qaida plotters and operatives including members of the USS Cole bombing and some of the 9111 hijackers, and probably provided logistical and financial support for al-Qaida operations to include facilitating the travel of fighters from Yemen. Further, the Board noted that the detainee’s statements and behavior while in detention indicate that he remains committed to engaging in violent acts against the United States, the difficulty in assessing his current mindset and credibility due to his decision to not participate in the hearing, and insufficient information presented to the Board regarding his plans if transferred and the support that he would have if transferred.
The Board appreciates that the detainee has engaged with his representatives to participate in the process. The Board looks forward to reviewing the detainee’s file in six months and encourages the detainee to fully participate in any future review.
Sharqawi was entitled to appear at his initial PRB last year and to speak on his own behalf. However, he did not appear, and the Board posted this notice on the PRB secretariat’s website:
“THE DETAINEE CHOSE NOT TO APPEAR BEFORE THE BOARD. THEREFORE, THE DETAINEE SESSION WAS NOT REQUIRED.”
- File Review. Sharqawi had a PRB file review on 15 November 2016, and on 14 April 2016 the Board concluded:
MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD
SUBJECT: Periodic Review Board File Review Sharqawi Abd u Ali al-Hajj (YM-1457)
On I November 2016, the PRB conducted a file review for Sharqawi Abd u Ali al-Hajj (YM- 1457) in accordance with Executive Order (E.O.) 13567,” Periodic Review of Individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station Pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” The PRB previously conducted a full review of the detainee and on 14 April 2016 determined that continued detention was necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. 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 i n accordance with section 3(c) of E.O. 13567. [emphasis added]
- Full Review. It is Sharqawi’s full review that is scheduled for this Tuesday. It should be noted that PRBs do not assess the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and are not criminal proceedings. A determination will be made as to whether the detainee is a threat to the U.S. He is hoping that the U.S. will send him to a 3rd country – outside the U.S. but not Yemen – for resettlement. The U.S. is not now sending detainees back to Yemen for security reasons.
What will Sharqawi’s PRB be like?
I suspect that other representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) (including 2 students from Indiana University McKinney School of Law) will be present with me at the Pentagon on Tuesday, and possibly some media. This is the second PRB to be held under the Trump Administration, and the first of these, two weeks ago, attracted more NGOs and media than most earlier PRBs. The NGOs and media representatives will view from a secure room at the Pentagon.
Others present for the hearing will include members of the “Board” itself that conducts the PRBs. Presumably each of those representatives will watch remotely in his or her office in the DC area. Also likely to be present for the hearing are the Legal Advisor to the Board; the Case Administrator; a Hearing Clerk; and a Security Officer, though it is not clear where these individuals would be located at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.
Statements to be made at the PRB
The initial part of the PRB will be unclassified, and that is the portion of the PRB I will observe. During that portion of the PRB, I will be sitting in a secure Pentagon viewing room watching the hearing live, which will be happening at Guantanamo Bay.
The Pentagon posted 3 statements to be read at Tuesday’s PRB’s public session:
- an Unclassified Summary prepared by the Government;
- a Statement by Sharqawi’s private outside lawyer; and
- a Statement by Sharqawi’s U.S. government-appointed non-lawyer “personal representative. The bodies of these three short statements are reproduced below.
The Unclassified Summary prepared by the U.S. Government to present at the PRB states, in full:
Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (YM-1457), a.k.a. Riyadh, is a career jihadist who acted as a prominent financial and travel facilitator for al -Qa’ida and was closely tied to several senior al -Qa’ida members, including Usama Bin Ladin and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024), although he has repeatedly denied being an al-Qa’ida member. During his detention at Guantanamo, Riyadh has been semicompliant with the guard force and, until late 2004, provided his interrogators with a wealth of information on his extremist activities and associations. Riyadh remains a steadfast supporter of extremist causes and groups, most likely continues to view America as his enemy, and has praised recent acts of terrorism. There are no indications that Riyadh’s Yemen-based family members have engaged in extremist activities, although connections to extremist networks could offer Riyadh a potential path to reengagement in Yemen.
The private counsel for submitted a statement that provides, in full:
Members of the Periodic Review Board:
Good morning. My name is Pardiss Kebriaei, and I am Private Counsel for Sharqawi Al Hajj.
Thank you for the opportunity for Mr. Al Haij’s subsequent full review. We are encouraged that the Periodic Review Board has been continuing its work. The board’s purpose of whether continued detention is still necessary is vital for men like Mr. Al Hajj, who has been held in U.S. custody for over 15 years.
I am currently a Senior Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented Guantanamo detainees since 2002, including dozens of men whom the United States, under the Bush and Obama administrations, has successfully repatriated or resettled. I have represented detainees for nearly ten years. I have represented Mr. Al Hajj since last year.
I’ll make a few brief points about the past, present and future with respect to Mr. Al Hajj.
With respect to the past: In Mr. Al Hajj’s habeas proceedings, the government’s case-in-chief relied on statements Mr. Al Hajj made during several interrogations in Bagram and Guantanamo in 2004. To the extent the board is considering any of this information as part of this review, it should know that then-Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the D.C. District Court struck all of these statements as unreliable; he found that they were tainted by prior physical and psychological coercion Mr. Al Hajj experienced in prisons in Jordan and Kabul after his capture. Mr. Al Hajj is here to answer your questions about his present views and conduct, and his future intentions, but this point about the past bears noting.
With respect to the present: Mr. Al Hajj is 43 years old today. The impulses and views that led to his detention were by a young man in his 20s. The government’s unclassified profile of Mr. Al Hajj states that he ”most likely continues to view America as his enemy.” That description is outdated. Mr. Al Hajj’s detention has necessarily entailed interactions with Americans of different stripes over the years that have complicated and changed his view. Blanket statements no longer apply.
Moreover, Mr. Al Hajj’s health may be seriously compromised. He reports bouts of jaundice and weakness which, according to independent physicians with whom his counsel have consulted, may indicate a potentially grave liver condition that should be investigated. A medical expert opinion is included in Mr. Al Hajj’s detainee submission. Far from having the desire or energy for any involvement in conflict, the hardship of the past 15 years makes him want to tum away.
Finally, with respect to the future: Mr. Al Hajj would accept resettlement in any safe country the government believes appropriate. His family stands ready and able to provide financial and moral support for his reintegration wherever that may be, as they have stated in the detainee submission. My organization, which has worked closely with envoys from the Defense and State Departments on detainee transfers in prior years, also stands ready to assist.
Sharqawi’s “personal representative”, who is a non-lawyer appointed by the U.S. military, submitted a statement that provides, in full:
Members of the board, thank for allowing Mr. Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj to have a second chance at hearing his case. I am his Personal Representative. He made the decision to not attend his first board because he did not feel confident sitting before the board without a Private Counsel. At that time, he still feared that the Board was a legal proceeding versus an administrative board and therefore, he did not want to attend without having his lawyer present.
But, since that time, he has attended every meeting with me and been very cordial. He is easy to get along with and is obviously a very intelligent person, who communicates well. He has worked well with both a female Personal Representative and Private Counsel.
Since Sharqawi has moved camps, he has worked to build his relationships with fellow detainees. During our conversations, he has indicated that since he has been here, he has learned to appreciate other people’s cultures which he had not before. He is actively participating in classes to prepare for life after Guantanamo and he speaks English quite well. His Private Counsel has been in contact with his family to confirm that they will support him after his departure from GTMO. He is open to repatriation anywhere and feels he is capable of working in other cultures since he has learned to work with other detainees in GTMO.
I appreciate your consideration of his case today as he answers your questions so you can decide if he still poses a threat to the U.S.
So far as we can tell, Sharqawi’s PRB is still scheduled to go forward on Tuesday, 28 February 2017. That is, the Pentagon has not notified us that it will not go forward. If it does go forward, it seems likely that Sharqawi will attend, which he did not do for his initial PRB last year.
Please watch this space for an update post-PRB.
Founder, Periodic Review Board (PRB) Project
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)
Indiana University McKinney School of Law