I Attended My Second Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Periodic Review Board (PRB) Hearing at the Pentagon

At the Pentagon, With Professor George Edwards, Founder of the Guantanamo Military Commissions Observation Project, and IU McKinney Program in International Human Rights Law.

This morning, 17 September2019, I traveled to the Pentagon for the second time, this time to attend a Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani (ISN 1461), who is a prisoner being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been for more than 15 years.

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.  

Today, Mr. Rabbani had a PRB hearing, at which he had an opportunity to plead with the U.S government to release him from Guantanamo.

Background on Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani (ISN 1461)

Mr. Rabbani is an alleged travel and financial facilitator for alleged al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is alleged that Mr. Rabbani’s main job was to operate al Qaeda safe houses in Karachi, Pakistan, facilitate travel of Mujahidin and their families to and from Afghanistan, and acquire and drive vehicles.  He is also suspected of having links with Osama Bin Laden.

Mr. Rabbani is a Pakistani citizen and was born in Saudi Arabia in October 1969 and raised there. According to a JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment document, Mr. Rabbani was arrested in September 2002 in Pakistan during a raid of guest houses that he operated along with others. He was held in Pakistani custody until he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2004.

Mr. Rabbani is now under a PRB subsequent full review, which is a hearing permitted to every detainee every three years if their Initial and File review hearings are declined.

Today’s Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Mr. Abdul Malik

Since this is my second time visiting the Pentagon, I was familiar with the process to expect. I arrived at the Pentagon today at 8:00 a.m. (Tuesday, 17 September 2019), showed my passport, cleared through rounds of high security, and went to the Pentagon waiting area waiting for the other observers.  While waiting, I had the opportunity to talk with the other observers. We were 3 Observers plus one member of the media. I was the Observer who represented the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and the other two Observers represented Judicial Watch and Human Rights First. A media representative from al Jazeera was present. Though governmental representatives may also view PRBs from this venue, none were present today.

Around 8:30 a.m., the four of us were escorted to a secure conference room in the Pentagon to observe the hearing broadcasted while it is happening live from Guantanamo Bay. The hearing was 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 the conference room. 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 started around 9:05 a.m.

The TV screen was switched to the hearing where we can see a US military official sitting in front of a table. The PRB started with an off-screen voice, presumably of a U.S. military official, calling out the names of the six U.S. government departments participating in the PRB, and making other preliminary announcements. The six departments are 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.

Then, the U.S. military official read out an “Unclassified Statement”, which is now posted online[1], and gives an [alleged] general background about the detainee. It reads as follows:

Text Box: Photo of the Unclassified Statement

“Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani (PK-J 461), a.k.a. Abu Badr, was a financial and travel facilitator for al-Qaida leaders Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024) and USS Cole mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri from 1997 until his arrest in September 2002 during a raid of guest house that Abu Badr was operating with his brother Abdul Rabbani (PK-1460) IN Karachi, Pakistan. His primary jobs were to run al-Qaida safe houses in Karachi, facilitate travel of mujahedeen and their families to and from Afghanistan, and acquire and drive vehicles. Abu Badr lived in Saudi Arabia until his early 20s but spent his active jihadist years in Pakistan.”

Later, the appointed personal representative for Mr. Rabbani read out a statement. This statement is posted online[2] for the public. She noted in her statement that she has scheduled over 40 meetings during the past months with Mr. Rabbani. However, Mr. Rabbani has not accepted to attend any of the meetings. The personal representative said that Mr. Rabbani does not feel that the current political situation will allow any detainee to depart GTMO.  The personal representative reiterated that she will continue scheduling meetings with Mr. Rabbani.

With that, the public session was concluded at 9:11 a.m. about 4 minutes after it began.

Reflections and preparation for Guantanamo Bay

This is my second time attending a hearing at the Pentagon related to Guantanamo detainees. This time, since the Personal Representative Statement was published online before the hearing stating that the detainee will not be attending, and considering last’ time discussion with the other NGO observers about how prisoners’ are losing hope on the process, I expected this hearing to be short.  

After attending my second PRB, I started to get a better understanding of the current proceedings.  It appears that detainees are increasingly refusing to attend the PRB hearings. This comes to no surprise considering the current political environment and that no detainee has been successfully released through the PRB process since the current Administration assumed power, and the five detainees who were cleared for transfer by the PRB process during Obama Administration remain at Guantanamo.  It appears that the process is losing its meaning and trust. With no changes or progress in the proceedings, it is expected that more detainees will stop cooperating.

Although PRB hearings so far were very short and expected, it still provides an insight into how PRB hearings are being held. It is a unique opportunity for those who are interested in learning more about the Guantanamo detainees, prisoners’ rights and prosecuting alleged war criminals. I look forward to continuing learning about the PRBs process and having the opportunity to attend more PRBs in the future.  I look forward to my upcoming visit to Guantanamo Bay to attend and observe the military commission hearings.

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

October 14th, 2019

Note: Progress of the case

As of October 17th  29th, 2019, The Periodic Review Board released “Unclassified Summary of Final Determination” determining that “continued law of war detention of the detainee (Mr. Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani) 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] Full statement is posted at https://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN1461/SubsequentHearing1/20190604_U_ISN_1461_UNCLASSIFIED_SUMMARY.pdf Access to other related documents is at https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/

[2] Access to the full statement is at https://www.prs.mil/Review-Information/Subsequent-Full-Review/

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