I Attended a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) Hearing at the Pentagon

  This morning, Tuesday 30 July 2019, I traveled to the Pentagon where I attended a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Abdul Malik, who is a prisoner being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been for more than 12 years.

Part I of this blog post describes who I am and how I came to attend this PRB. Part II describes the PRB, which is an administrative parole-like process that was created by President Obama in 2011 as he was seeking to close Guantanamo’s detention facilities. Part III discusses the background of Mr. Malik. Part IV discusses Mr. Malik’s PRB.

  1. My background

I am from the United Arab Emirates, and received a U.S. government Fulbright scholarship to study for my LL.M. degree at Indiana McKinney School of Law, where I am in the International Human Rights Law Track. I have taken international human rights law classroom classes, and am currently working as an immigration intern at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Silver Spring, Maryland, through McKinney’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

I received my first law degree from UAE University in 2015, and a post-graduate diploma in UAE Diplomacy and International Relations from Emirates Diplomatic Academy in 2017. After earning those degrees, I worked for 2 years in the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment as a legal researcher and 5 months as an analyst in a Minster of State office.

During my work and studies, I developed an interest and passion towards topics related to International Human Rights Law.

At Indiana McKinney, I learned that Professor Edwards founded two projects related to Guantanamo Bay. The first is the Military Commission Observation Project, that sends McKinney Affiliates (faculty, staff, students, graduates) to Guantanamo Bay base to monitor U.S. military commission hearings live, and to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where they can view military commission hearings by CCTV. The second is the Periodic Review Board (PRB) Observation Project that sends McKinney Law Affiliates to the Pentagon to monitor PRBs (which I explain below). I applied for both projects and received clearance to attend today’s PRB hearing at the Pentagon. I am still waiting for approval to travel to Guantanamo, Cuba to attend the Military Commissions hearings.    

As a lawyer who has been working to become a human rights advocate, I have long been interested in various topics related to human rights. Among those topics is prisoners’ rights; the right to a fair trial, the right not to be tortured, etc. Nowadays, it appears that many of these rights have been neglected or overlooked especially when these rights intersect with terrorism, politics and national security.  I have been thinking about how we can balance between ensuring justice and human rights while considering politics and national security.

I hope my Guantanamo experiences will offer me a better practical understanding of these pressing issues.

  1. Periodic Review Boards (PRBs)

The Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) process was established on 7 March 2011 upon an Executive Order by President Obama who sought to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. The PRB is a discretionary administrative process with the stated purpose of seeking to determine whether each prisoner held at Guantanamo “continues to be a threat” to U.S. national security.  The PRB does not address the legality of the detention of any prisoner, or the guilt or innocence of any prisoner, and only addresses the issue of threat to U.S. national security.    The question of whether a detainee is guilty is determined by a separate Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

If a PRB determines that a prisoner is “no longer a threat”, the prisoner can be cleared to be released from Guantanamo, either to be repatriated to his country or transferred to resettle in a third country. The members of the PRB include one representative of each of the following: Department of Defense; Department of State, Department of Justice; Department of Homeland Security; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Every detainee in a PRB proceeding is provided with a personal representative who is a uniformed U.S. military officer whose role is to assist and advocates on behalf of the prisoner during the PRB process.

More information about PRB’s hearing and decisions is available at www.prs.mil and https://gitmoobserver.com/prbs/  

  1. Background on Mr. Abdul Malik.

Mr. Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (known as Abdul Malik), who is from Kenya, was born on 11 November 1973. He has been held at Guantanamo since 2007, after being suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda of East Africa (AQEA) and participating in the 2002 attacks against the Paradise Hotel and an Israeli aircraft in Mombasa, Kenya. He was arrested in 2007 by Kenyan authorities and transferred to US custody a few weeks later.

Mr. Abdul Malik has been afforded multiple levels of PRBs, including an initial review and file reviews. The current PRB is considered to be a “subsequent full review”, which is a hearing permitted to prisoners every three years if their initial and file review hearings are not successful. Each of his PRBs offered him the opportunity to ask the United States government to release him from Guantanamo.

  1. Today’s Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Abdul Malik
At the Pentagon, with Professor George Edwards, Founder of the Guantanamo Military Commissions Observation Project, and IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law.

I arrived at the Pentagon today at 7:30 a.m. (Tuesday, 30 July 2019), cleared through a round of security, and went to the waiting area waiting for the rest of the observers.  Sometime after, Professor George Edwards and other representatives from different Organizations arrived. While waiting, I had the opportunity to talk with the other Observers. We were 5 Observers in total. I and Professor Edwards represented Indiana University McKinney Law School and the other three representatives were from Judicial Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Human Rights First.

Around 8:30, military officials in uniform came to escort us through more security channels, and take us to a secure Pentagon conference room to observe the hearing broadcasted while it is happening live at Guantanamo. We were to watch the hearing broadcasted through a TV screen in the middle of the room.  Before we entered that room, we had to leave our cell phones and cameras on a table outside. Once inside the room, we had to sign a form that indicated rules for a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), such as, no recording devices.

The hearing was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m., but started late, around 9:05 a.m. The TV screen was switched to the hearing channel. We could see the hearing room, which I understand is in a courtroom at Guantanamo Bay.

The PRB started with an off-camera voice, presumably of a U.S. military official, making introductory remarks, including calling out the names of the US departments participating in the PRB. Then, the U.S. military official read out an “Unclassified Statement”. The statement is posted online[1], and it makes allegations regarding the general background of the prisoner. It is read as follows:

“Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu (KE-10025) was inspired by a radical imam to leave Kenya in 1996 to receive extremist training in Somalia, where he developed a close relationship with members of al-Qa’ida in East Africa (AQEA), including senior operational planners such as Harun Fazul.  Bajabu became an AQEA facilitator and was closely involved in the preparation and execution of the attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002 against the Paradise Hotel and Israeli aircraft.  In February 2007, Kenyan authorities arrested Mr. Bajabu for his involvement in the Mombasa attacks and transferred him to US custody a few weeks later.”

Later, Mr. Abdul Malik’s appointed personal representative read out a statement. At the time of the hearing, this statement was not posted online for the public. He noted in his statement that he has scheduled 15 meeting during the past 7 months with Mr. Abdul Malik, and Mr. Abdul Malik accepted to attend five out of the 15 meetings requests. The last meeting was scheduled on July 29, 2019, one day before this board hearing which according to the personal representative, Mr. Abdul Malik again refused to attend. Mr. Abdul Malik did not attend the public portion of the scheduled PRB today. The personal representative stated that he will continue scheduling meetings with Mr. Abdul Malik. 

With that, the public session was concluded about 4 minutes and 44 seconds after it began.

Reflections

This was my first time attending a Guantanamo hearing and my first time attending a hearing at the Pentagon.  I did not know what to expect, but definitely, I expected the hearing to last longer. According to the other Observers who have been attending these hearings for a long time, it is usual for a PRB hearing to be this quick (fewer than 5 minutes). I also expected Mr. Abdul Malik to be present at the hearing. However, it appears that Guantanamo prisoners may be choosing not to attend their PRBs because they see little chance of being released after a PRB, given the current political environment, the fact that no prisoners have been released through the PRB process since the current U.S. Administration assumed power, and that even some prisoners who were cleared by the PRB process during Obama Administration are still in Guantanamo and not yet released.  Current prisoners are losing hope in this process. I suspect that more prisoners will stop attending PRB hearings.

Visiting the Pentagon.

On a different note, this was my first time visiting the Pentagon. It a very big and beautiful building. I didn’t see much of the place, but hopefully next time I visit, I can take a building tour.  Although the hearing was very short, it was worth attending. It offers insight into the PRB and how the hearings are being held. It a unique opportunity for those who are interested in learning more about the Guantanamo prisoners. I look forward to learning more about the PRBs process, and to have the opportunity to attend more PRB hearings at the pentagon.  Ideally, the prisoners will attend the next PRB hearing I attend.

I’m still waiting for my security clearance to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to observe the military commission proceedings live. This opportunity would definitely provide me with a better understanding of the Guantanamo Military Commission proceedings.

Maitha Salem Altamimi

Master of Laws (LL.M.) Candidate, International Human Rights Law Track (2019)

Military Commission Observation Project Trial Observer / Monitor

Program in International Human Rights Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

July 31st, 2019

Note: Progress of the case

As of August 29th, 2019, The Periodic Review Board released “Unclassified Summary of Final Determination” determining that “continued law of war detention of the detainee [Mr. Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu] remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The Full Unclassified Summary of Final Determination is available at: https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/


[1] Access to the Unclassified Statement is at https://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN10025/SubsequentReview1/20190326_U_ISN_10025_UNCLASSIFIED_SUMMARY.pdf

Access to other related documents is at https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/

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