Periodic Review Boards (PRBs)

U.S.-Educated Detainee Asks U.S. Board To Release Him From Guantanamo

 

GTMO -- sarifulla paracha -- at age 67 -- with smile

Mr. Parahca two years ago at age 67

This morning, in a dark, locked, secure Pentagon conference room, I attended a hearing in which Guantanamo’s oldest detainee, 69-year-old Mr. Saifullah Paracha, asked the U.S. government to set him free. I was joined by Judge Aline Fagundes, who is a Master of Laws (LL.M.) student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, and several other carefully screened civilian monitors.

 

The hearing was held pursuant to a 2011 Executive Order issued by President Barack Obama that provides detainees periodic reviews to determine if the detainees are a threat to U.S. national security. If the Periodic Review Board (PRB) finds that the detainee is a threat, he remains detained. If he is found not to be a threat, he may be repatriated to his home country or resettled in a third country.

Mr. Paracha argued for his release. The government alleged that Mr. Paracha was a “businessman and facilitator on behalf of al-Qa’ida senior leaders and operational planners”.

The PRB is expected to render a decision in Mr. Paracha’s case in about a month.

Today’s hearing – Who? Where?

Today at the Pentagon we had 6 observers from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media. Two of us were from the Guantanamo Bay project I founded at Indiana University McKinney School of Law (GitmoObserver.com). Our project sponsors Indiana Affiliates to travel to hearings at Guantanamo, the Pentagon, and Ft. Meade, Maryland.

We were met by 2 military and one civilian escort in the Pentagon’s Visitor Center, and escorted to a conference room where we talked amongst ourselves and listened to the Military History Channel, waiting for the hearing to commence.

Others present for the hearing included members of the “Board” itself that conducts the PRBs, and that consisted 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. These individuals were not with us at the Pentagon, but were at a separate, undisclosed location in the DC area. It is believed that also present for the hearing, also at one or more undisclosed locations, were the Legal Advisor to the Board, the Case Administrator, a Hearing Clerk, and a Security Officer.

The detainee – Mr. Paracha – was present, by close circuit TV.

Mr. Paracha was joined by a “personal representative”, who is a military official dressed in uniform, who has been spending time with the Mr. Paracha and helping him present his case. The personal representative is not a lawyer or other sort of legal professional, and communications between Mr. Paracha and his personal representative are not protected by attorney client or similar privilege.

 The hearing begins

 The hearing was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m., but what appears to have been a technical glitch resulted in a delay. Some of us were concerned, since at the last PRB we attended the audio feed was great from Guantanamo Bay but there was no visual feed so the screen was blank. Today’s visual feed was blurry, but at least we could see the Guantanamo hearing room and its occupants, unlike at the last PRB.

GTMO -- sarifulla paracha -- at age 62

Mr. Paracha

At 9:14 a.m., a picture appeared on the almost ceiling-height screen.

 

In our dimly lit conference room, we saw on the screen the dimly lit Guantanamo room where the detainee sat at the end of a rectangular table, facing the camera, with a stack of papers in front of him. They were in one of Guantanamo’s trailer-like, austere, rooms that had plain walls, floor, and table.

In contrast to the bland surroundings, the hearing room had high back office chairs, that looked like high-quality leather chairs one might see in a law associate’s office.  Aside from air conditioner units, seemingly from the 80s, hanging window-height on the wall behind Mr. Paracha’s head, there was nothing else on the walls.

On the table in front of Mr. Paracha’s seat was a table-top name plate that said in large, bold, all capital letters “DETAINEE”.

Mr. Paracha wore a white top, with somewhat short sleeves that appeared bunched at the elbows. His attire was clearly not a detainee “uniform”. Through the blur it appeared as though he had a white beard and a bald head.

The personal representative sat at the table on Mr. Paracha’s right, perpendicular to him, and not directly next to him.

The hearing began with a male, off-camera voice announcing that the hearing was commencing, mentioning some hearing rules, identifying who was present – boiler point.

Next came a female voice, again off camera. This voice read the Government’s Unclassified Statement, as follows:

Saifullah Paracha (PK-1094) was a Pakistan-based businessman and facilitator on behalf of al-Qa’ida senior leaders and operational planners. He met Usama Bin Ladin in 1999 or 2000 and later worked with external operations chief Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024) to facilitate financial transactions and propaganda. Since his arrival at Guantanamo, Paracha has been very compliant with the detention staff and has espoused moderate views and acceptance of Western norms. Although there is no indication that he is in communication with extremists outside Guantanamo, Paracha’s extensive extremist business contacts that he established before his detention could provide him opportunities to reengage upon release should he choose to use them. 

Mr. Paracha appeared to be paying close attention to whichever person happened to be speaking at the time – one of the off-camera narrators or his personal representative. The hearing was conducted in English, as a voice in the background stated that Mr. Paracha had waived his right to an interpretation of the hearing in another language of his choice.

While the personal representative spoke, Mr. Paracha would from time to time glance at her. At other times he appeared focused on the papers in front of him, appearing to follow along in English, flipping pages as the script was being read. At times he would place his left open palm firmly on the stack of papers, as though holding them down from a breeze.

The hearing ended at 9:19 — just 5 minutes after it began. This was the shortest PRB I have attended. They typically begin at 9:00 and run no longer than 30 minutes.

No private counsel of Mr. Parach attended today’s PRB, and no statement was read by any private counsel for Mr. Paracha’s today. That was one reason that the PRB was shorter than usual. It is unclear why private counsel did not appear today.  A statement by the private counsel Mr. David H. Remes had been posted on the Perriodic Review Board website here. But, that statement was the same statement submitted under Mr. Remes for Mr. Paracha’s file review PRB in 2016. That statement ended with this sentence:

For these reasons, I respectfully encourage the Board to convene a full review and hope that it will conclude that Mr. Paracha’s continued detention is unwarranted.

David H. Remes

Approved for Public Release
UNCLASSIFIED

That statement asked the Board to convene a “full review”, and today’s hearing was the “full review” requested. If Mr. Remes submitted a private counsel statement for today’s hearing, that statement was not posted on the PRB website (as of tonight — 8:55 p.m., Tuesday, 21 March 2017), and was not read at today’s hearing. What was posted online under Mr. Remese name was from last year.

Mr. Paracha’s background

Mr. Paracha, who is 69 years of age, is a former Pakistan-based businessman. He lived in the U.S. for about 15 years until the mid-1980s and went to college in the U.S.

Uzair Paracha

Uzair Paracha, Mr. Paraha’s son, is serving a 30 year sentence in a U.S. federal prison on terrorism-related convitions.

The U.S. alleges that Mr. Paracha worked with high level members of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden. Mr. Paracha denies this. Mr. Paracha’s eldest son, Uzair Paracha, who was convicted in a U.S. federal court on charges related to terrorism, is serving a 30-year sentence.

 

Mr. Paracha was arrested in 2003 after arriving on a flight in Bangkok, Thailand, where he said he was going for business. He was sent to a prison camp in Europe for about 10 months, then sent to Guantanamo.

Mr. Paracha’s health has not been great, both before he arrived at Guantanamo in 2004 and while there. He has heart problems (including at least 2 heart attacks) and diabetes.

The hearing – a Periodic Review Board – PRB

Today’s hearing is called a Periodic Review Board (PRB),  and was 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.

Paracha’s 3 PRB hearings — summary

Mr. Paracha had an “initial PRB” on 8 March 2016 and a “file PRB review” on 27 September 2016. The hearing on Tuesday will be his “full PRB”.

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 the detainee’s past involvement in terrorist activities, including contacts and activities with Usama Bin Laden, Kahlid Shaykh Muhammad and other senior al-Qaeda members, facilitating financial transactions and travel, and developing media for al-Qaeda. The Board further noted the detainee’s refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaeda, his inability and refusal to distinguish between legitimate and nefarious business contacts, his indifference toward the impact of his prior actions, and his lack of a plan to prevent exposure to avenues of reengagement.

  • File Review. Paracha had a PRB file review on 27 September 2016, and on 12 October 2016 the Board concluded:

MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD

SUBJECT: Periodic Review Board File Review – Saifullah Abdullah Paracha (PK-I 094)

On 28 September 2016, the PRB conducted a file review for Saifullah Abdullah Paracha (PK- l 094) 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 7 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 in accordance with section 3(c) of E.O. 13567.

  • Full Review. It was Mr. Paracha’s full review that was held today. 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 repatriate him to Pakistan or send him to a 3rd country – outside the U.S.

 The Board will likely publish a decision on this full review in a month or so.

More on this hearing?

The initial part of the PRB was unclassified, and that is the portion of the PRB that Judge Fagundes, the other monitors and I observed. During that portion of the PRB, we were sitting in a secure Pentagon viewing room watching Mr. Paracha and his personal representative live from Guantanamo Bay.

PRBs v. Military Commissions

Military commission are criminal proceedings that are geared towards determining whether defendants are guilty of offenses that are charged. Generally, the outcome of a military commission would be that the defendant is found guilty of the charges or the defendant is acquitted of the charges. Military commissions operate pursuant to the Military Commission Act of 2009, a federal statute.

PRBs are administrative proceedings that seek to determine whether a detainee is a threat to the national security of the U.S. The outcome of a PRB is that a detainee is considered a threat and will thus remain at Guantanamo Bay, or is not considered a threat and can be placed on a list for possible repatriation to his home country or resettlement in a third country. PRBs operate pursuant to an Executive Order issued in 2011.

Military commissions examine what the detainee alleged did in the past – his prior conduct – and assess the legality of that conduct. PRBs can be said to focus more on the detainee’s future conduct – whether the detainee is likely to engage in unlawful or otherwise threatening or harmful behavior if he is released.

 

edwards and fagundes -- Pentagon -- 21 March 2017

Professor George Edwards & Judge Aline Fagundes at the Pentagon before the Periodic Review Board (PRB) held on 21 Marh 2017

Judge Fagundes’ observations

 

Judge Fagundes is the first student from Indiana University McKinney School of Law to participate in all three types of hearings our Indiana Guantanamo Bay Military Commission Observation Project / Gitmo Observer may send affiliates to observe:

  • She traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor U.S. Military Commissions live, in the courtroom.
  • She traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland, to monitor U.S. Military Commissions via a secure videolink from Guantanamo.
  • She traveled to the Pentagon to monitor Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB).

Judge Fagundes is researching and writing a paper that focuses on international law requirements for transparency in the U.S. Military Commission system. She has described some of her experiences on this blog – www.GitmoObserver.com.

George Edwards

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

_______

Traveling to the Pentagon to hear Guantanamo’s Oldest Detainee Seek Release

 

GTMO -- sarifulla paracha -- at age 67 -- with smile

Mr. Saifullah Paracha

On Tuesday Guantanamo’s oldest detainee, Mr. Saifullah Paracha, will likely plead at a hearing that he is not a threat to U.S. national security. He will ask to be repatriated to his homeland of Pakistan or resettled in a 3rd country.

 

During the parole-like hearing, Mr. Paracha will be located in a small, bare trailer at Guantanamo. The proceeding will be videocast live to a small Pentagon room where I plan to watch it with a handful of other carefully screened observers, including two of my Indiana law students (Judge Aline Fagundes and another Master of Laws student).

Mr. Paracha, who is 69 years of age, is a former Pakistan-based businessman. He lived in the U.S. for about 15 years until the mid-1980s and went to college in the U.S.

Uzair Paracha

Mr. Uzair Paracha, Mr. Paracha’s son, who is serving a 40 year U.S. terrorism sentence

The U.S. alleges that Mr. Paracha worked with high level members of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden. Mr. Paracha denies this. Mr. Paracha’s eldest son, Uzair Paracha, who was convicted in a U.S. federal court on charges related to terrorism, is serving a 30-year sentence.

 

Mr. Paracha was arrested in 2003 after arriving on a flight in Bangkok, Thailand, where he said he was going for business. He was sent to a prison camp in Europe for about 10 months, then sent to Guantanamo.

Mr. Paracha’s health has not been great, both before he arrived at Guantanamo in 2004 and while there. He has heart problems (including at least 2 heart attacks) and diabetes.

The hearing – a Periodic Review Board – PRB

This hearing at which Mr. Paracha  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.

Paracha’s 3 PRB hearings

Mr. Paracha had an “initial PRB” on 8 March 2016 and a “file PRB review” on 27 September 2016. The hearing on Tuesday will be his “full PRB”.

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 the detainee’s past involvement in terrorist activities, including contacts and activities with Usama Bin Laden, Kahlid Shaykh Muhammad and other senior al-Qaeda members, facilitating financial transactions and travel, and developing media for al-Qaeda. The Board further noted the detainee’s refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaeda, his inability and refusal to distinguish between legitimate and nefarious business contacts, his indifference toward the impact of his prior actions, and his lack of a plan to prevent exposure to avenues of reengagement.

  • File Review. Paracha had a PRB file review on 27 September 2016, and on 12 October 2016 the Board concluded:

MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD

SUBJECT: Periodic Review Board File Review – Saifullah Abdullah Paracha (PK-I 094)

On 28 September 2016, the PRB conducted a file review for Saifullah Abdullah Paracha (PK- l 094) 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 7 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 in accordance with section 3(c) of E.O. 13567.

  • Full Review. It is Paracha’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 repatriate him to Pakistan or send him to a 3rd country – outside the U.S.

 The Board will likely publish a decision on this full review in a month or so.

Below is more information about what Tuesday’s full PRB may be like.

 

podium

Judge Aline Fagundes, a Master of Laws (LL.M. student at Indiana) is expected to attend Mr. Paracha’s PRB at the Pentagon. She was at the Pentagon earlier this month for a different PRB.

What will Paracha’s PRB be like on Tuesday?

 

  • Who will be present?

 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 third PRB to be held under the Trump Administration.

Others present for the hearing will include members of the “Board” itself that conducts the PRBs, and that consisted 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. 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.

Who will make statements made at the PRB?

1.  First, U.S. military official will read an “Unclassified Statement”. The statement for Tuesday is already posted online, and is as follows:

Saifullah Paracha (PK-1094) was a Pakistan-based businessman and facilitator on behalf of al-Qa’ida senior leaders and operational planners. He met Usama Bin Ladin in 1999 or 2000 and later worked with external operations chief Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024) to facilitate financial transactions and propaganda. Since his arrival at Guantanamo, Paracha has been very compliant with the detention staff and has espoused moderate views and acceptance of Western norms. Although there is no indication that he is in communication with extremists outside Guantanamo, Paracha’s extensive extremist business contacts that he established before his detention could provide him opportunities to reengage upon release should he choose to use them. 

2.  Mr. Paracha’s Pentagon-appointed personal representative may make a statement. The text of this statement has not yet been posted online.

3.  Mr. Paracha’s private counsel may make a statement. The text of this statement has not yet been posted online.

 More on this hearing?

The initial part of the PRB will be unclassified, and that is the portion of the PRB my students and 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.

It is possible that the Pentagon will post a statement by Mr. Paracha and the other statements mentioned above (statement by his Pentagon-appointed personal representative and by his private counsel). If these are posted on the PRB website, I will plan to post them on this blog later.

PRBs v. Military Commissions

Military commission are criminal proceedings that are geared towards determining whether defendants are guilty of offenses that are charged. Generally, the outcome of a military commission would be that the defendant is found guilty of the charges or the defendant is acquitted of the charges. Military commissions operate pursuant to the Military Commission Act of 2009, a federal statute.

PRBs are administrative proceedings that seek to determine whether a detainee is a threat to the national security of the U.S. The outcome of a PRB is that a detainee is considered a threat and will thus remain at Guantanamo Bay, or is not considered a threat and can be placed on a list for possible repatriation to his home country or resettlement in a third country. PRBs operate pursuant to an Executive Order issued in 2011.

Military commissions examine what the detainee alleged did in the past – his prior conduct – and assess the legality of that conduct. PRBs can be said to focus more on the detainee’s future conduct – whether the detainee is likely to engage in unlawful or otherwise threatening or harmful behavior if he is released.

Conclusion

So far as we can tell, Paracha’s PRB is still scheduled to go forward on Tuesday. That is, the Pentagon has not notified us that it will not go forward. If it does go forward, it seems likely that Mr. Paracha will attend, as there has been no suggestion that he will miss his first full review.

Please watch this space for an update post-PRB.

George Edwards

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

_______

 

Yemeni Guantanamo Detainee to Ask Pentagon to Release Him

 

prb-al-haji-sharqawi

al Sharqawi to ask Pentagon on Tuesday to release him from Guantanamo Bay after 15 years in custody 

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.

pentagonThe 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

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:

  1. an Unclassified Summary prepared by the Government;
  2. a Statement by Sharqawi’s private outside lawyer; and
  3. 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.

 Conclusion

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.

George Edwards

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

_______

 

Yemeni Detainee asks Obama Administration to release him from Guantanamo

gtmo-prb-6-december-2016-mohammad-ahmad-abdallah-al-ansi

al Ansi in a Department of Defense photo.

Today, after 14 years imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a Yemeni detainee named Mohammad Ahmad Abdallah al Ansi asked the U.S. Government to transfer him from Cuba to a third country. If released, 58 detainees would remain at Guantanamo, down from a record high of 780 detainees.

This parole board like hearing is called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), and was convened pursuant to President Obama’s 2011 Executive Order calling for PRBs to ascertain whether detainees pose a continuing threat to the national security of the U.S. If a detainee does not pose such a threat, he may be repatriated to his home country or transferred to a third country. It is unknown whether the next President will rescind this Executive Order and cease Period Reviews, and whether any of the 5 dozen remaining detainees will be released after January 2017.

President Obama’s 2011 Executive Order calls for three types of PRBs: (a) an Initial PRB for all detainees, involving a hearing at which the detainee may appear and speak on his own behalf; (b) a file PRB, held 6 months after a detainee is denied release following an initial PRB and which detainees are prohibited from attending; and (c) a full PRB, held if after a file review the Board finds that the detainee is a “continuing” risk to US national security.

Al Ansi, who is also known as prisoner number YM – 029, had his initial PRB in February 2016, a file PRB in September 2016, and a full PRB today. This article discusses the initial, file and full reviews.

al Ansi’s initial PRB

At al Ansi’s initial PRB on 23 February 2016, he appeared in person. On 23 March 2016, a month after the initial PRB, the Board made its final determination as follows:

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 the significant derogatory information regarding the detainee’s past activities in Afghanistan. Further, the Board noted the detainee’s lack of candor resulting in an inability to assess the detainee’s credibility and therefore his future intentions.

The Board looks forward to reviewing the detainee’s file in six months and encourages the detainee to continue to be compliant, continue taking advantage of educational opportunities and continue working with the doctors to maintain his health. The Board encourages the detainee to be increasingly forthcoming in communications with the Board.

al Ansi’s file review PRB

After his initial PRB, al Ansi had a file review PRB, which he was not permitted to appear, with a Board determination based only on his written “file”.  His file review was held on 13 or 14 September 2016 (according to http://www.prs.mil), and on 14 September 2016 (according to the written file review final determination) the Board ruled as follows:

MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD

SUBJECT: Periodic Review Board File Review – Muhammad Ahmad Abdalla al-Ansi (YM- 029)

On 14 September 2016, the PRB conducted a file review for Muhammad Ahmad Abdalla al­ Ansi (YM-029) 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 23 March 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 in accordance with section 3(c) of E.0.  13567.

I watched al Ansi's PRB broadcast live from Guantanamo Bay into a nondescript Pentagon conference room this morning, with a handful of human rights advocates and one member of the media.

I watched al Ansi’s PRB broadcast live from Guantanamo Bay into a nondescript Pentagon conference room this morning, with a handful of human rights advocates and one member of the media.

al Ansi’s Full PRB

Today’s PRB (6 December 2016) as Ansi had a “full” PRB review.

Today’s full PRB, like all the other PRBs, was held at Guantanamo Bay. Today’s session was broadcast by live close circuit TV (CCTV) to a secure location at the Pentagon for viewing by non-governmental organizations and the media.

I observed the hearing in a modest Pentagon conference room, joined by representatives of non-governmental organizations (Judicial Watch, Heritage Foundation, ACLU, and Human Rights First) and the media (Courthouse News). When we watched these proceedings piped in from Guantanamo, we also had 2 to 3 military or civilian escorts or technicians in the room with us, but I will not reveal further information about the identities, ranks or affiliations of these individuals (all of whom are always very friendly and nice!).

Members of the PRB Board – 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 – were not physically at Guantanamo Bay, but watched the proceedings from the D.C. area, presumably from their respective offices.

It is unclear when the Board is expected to make a final determination on this full PRB, and whether that determination will be made before the Obama Administration ends on 20 January 2017.

Some of the words spoken during the hearing were in Arabic, and were spoken by an 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 the government’s “unclassified summary statement”, in English, of behavior that al Ansi allegedly engaged in, both before he arrived at Guantanamo and after he arrived.

After the government’s unclassified summary statement, the personal representative read an opening statement in English.

Then, al Ansi’s private counsel read a statement, also in English.

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

The unclassified portion of hearing ended roughly 15 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.

Who is Mohammad Ahmad Abdallah al Ansi?

He is 40 or 41 years of age, born in Yemen. The government paints a picture of him as an avowed war criminal member of al Qaeda, as being loyal to Osama bin Laden, and as a person slated for an aborted hijacking in Asia meant to coincide with 9/11. The government has kept al Ansi in prison at Guantanamo Bay for over 14 years, and has on multiple occasions affirmatively ruled that he posed a threat to the national security of the U.S. Indeed, this same PRB ruled twice this year (February and September 2016) that al Ansi should not be released.

al Ansi’s personal representative and private counsel painted a different picture of al Ansi. The private counsel spoke about al Ansi’s suitability for release, and what he might do constructively upon release. Though the personal representative did not directly speak to the issue of whether he thought al Ansi posed a continuing threat to U.S. national security, the personal representative did not speak against release.

Today’s hearing itself

Today’s full PRB hearing commenced about 9:06 and ended 15 minutes later at about 9:21.

al Ansi sat at the head of a small white rectangular table that appeared to be in a Guantanamo Bay “trailer” (and not in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom). On the long side of the table to his left sat his personal representative in a U.S. military uniform. Directly across from him, to al Ansi right, sat the linguist. Next to the linguist was the private counsel, sitting closest to the camera.

Throughout much of the hearing, al Ansi, who was dressed in white non-descript attire, sat with his elbows resting on the table, hunched a little forward, flipping through documents in front of him, possibly reading through the documents. It was impossible for us to see on the screen what the nature was of the pages in front of al Ansi, or in what language the pages were written. At times he would rest his forearms on the table, with his hand clasped, eyes cast downward.

Government’s unclassified statement

An off-camera woman’s voice read aloud the Government’s “unclassified statement” in which the Pentagon contended that al-Ansi

traveled to Afghanistan in 1999, where he joined al-Qa’ida, swore bayat to Usama Bin Ladin, and served as Bin Ladin’s bodyguard. Judging from other detainee statements and corroborating information [al-Ansi] may have been selected to participate in an aborted hijacking plot in Asia intended to coincide with the 9/11 attacks. He was captured by Pakistani authorities after the battle of Tora Bora in 2001. [al-Ansi] has been mostly compliant with the detention staff at Guantanamo, and his last disciplinary infraction was in June 2014. He has not expressed support for extremist causes or maintained contact with terrorists at large.”

Private Counsel Arguments supporting al Ansi’s request for transfer

al-Ansi’s was represented at this PRB by private counsel Beth Jacob who is a partner at the New York law firm Kelley Drye & Warren, where she represents generic pharmaceutical companies.  Before she joined Kelley Drye & Warren, she represented the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey in litigation arising out of the 9/11 attacks, representing 9/11 victims who sought compensation. She had previously been an assistant district attorney i n New York, prosecuting fraud and official corruption.

She only began representing al Ansi since after his initial PRB ruling finding that he continued to pose a threat to national security of the United States.

She pointed out that al Ansi showed her some of the artwork created at Guantanamo Bay, and she showed it to a New York-based artist, who “was struck by his ability and innate talent , as she has written in her letter to this Board”.

In arguing that al Ansi should be released from Guantanamo Bay, she noted that the New York artist and Reprieve said that. “Mr. al Ansi’s art will stand him in good stead if he is deemed transferrable” for several reasons, including: (a) ‘it will give him something to do and a means of expression, in the first days and weeks after his transfer”; (b) “he will be part of the community of artists, which will provide stability and social contacts; and (c) “there i s the possibility of earnings from his art.” She went further to state that “Mr. al Ansi is planning for more practical ways to make a living – he told me he would like a construction job, and among the many classes that he is taking here at GTMO is one about small business.”

In support of her arguments supporting al Ansi’s transfer, his private counsel argued that his: “family still has resources which they are completely willing to use to help their brother start a new life after Guantanamo , as shown by the statements the family submitted to the first board and this panel. His family will be a stabilizing force when he is transferred.

Further, she argued that his health situation supported transfer, though the details of his health situation were not revealed, as a portion of her letter was redacted. She wrote:

The second factor [supporting transfer] is his health. [Redacted] [Redacted] [Redacted] [Redacted] He knows that managing these chronic conditions takes much time, effort and attention, and that he must follow a strict diet and exercise regimen , in addition to his medications.

She argued that if released, he will also have support of the Carter Center, founded by President Carter, and Reprieve’s Life After Guantanamo project, which has helped over three dozen former detainees.

Personal Representative Statement

al Ansi’s personal representative, who was a military officer in fatigues, read a simple, prepared 1-page statement that noted that

al-Ansi has intensely participated in the PRB process”,  has “maintained a record of perfect attendance for meetings with his Personal Representative (PR) and Private Counsel (PC) despite the constant change in schedulling”, and that his “professional manner throughout all engagements with his PC and PR has not wavered.

The personal representative noted that:

He continues to enthusiastically maintain his compliant behavior with the Joint Task Force (JTF) Guard Force and continues to engage with the JTF Medical Staff in order to deal with chronic health issues.  In addition, Mr. Al-Ansi has not ceased to passionately take advantage of the educational opportunities to include courses in Mathematics , Science, English, Spanish, Life Skills, Computers, Art, and recently started the Arab British Academy for higher education studies.  Since July of 2016, he has created an additional 150 quality works of art.  Seven additional works of art are included in his case submission.  Recently, he has enrolled i n Small Project Management , Business Administration, Accounting and Ledgers classes.

Unlike other personal representatives in other cases, this Personal Representative did not say whether or not he believed that al Ansi is or is not a threat to the security of the United States”.

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

Yemeni Detainee Asks U.S. Board for Release From Guantanamo Bay

This is Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei'i, according to a New York Times site. If this is Rabei'i, he has lost most of his hair.

This is Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei’i, according to a New York Times site. If this is Rabei’i, he has lost most of his hair.

Today, after 15 years of conferment at Guantanamo Bay, a Yemeni detainee named Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei’i asked the U.S. Government to transfer him from Cuba to a third country.

This parole board like hearing is called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), and was convened pursuant to President Obama’s 2011 Executive Order calling for PRBs to ascertain whether detainees pose a continuing threat to the national security of the U.S. If a detainee does not pose such a threat, he may be repatriated to his home country or transferred to a third country.

Rabei’i had an initial PRB in 2015 in which he appeared in person, and that was followed by a “file review” PRB for which he was not permitted to appear. Today’s PRB was a “full” review.

The PRB was held at Guantanamo Bay, but it was broadcast by CCTV to a secure location at the Pentagon.

I observed the hearing in a modest Pentagon conference room, joined by representatives of the media (Al Jazeera, Courthouse News) and other non-governmental organizations (Judicial Watch, Heritage Foundation, and Human Rights First). Also in attendance was Faisal Sadat, who is a Master of Laws (LL.M.) student at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, who this semester is a human rights law intern at Human Rights Watch. He participated today in his capacity as a representative of the Indiana McKinney Periodic Review Project, which is part of the Law School’s Program in International Human Rights Law.

Who is Rabei’i

Rabei’i was 22 when he arrived at Guantanamo Bay. Allegedly, he was “recruited” by his brother Fawaz to travel to Yemen where he allegedly received al Qaida training. The only other substantive involvement that the U.S. Government levels against him is that he “possibly fought in Tora Bora”.

His special representative, who appeared today in a U.S. Military Uniform, said: “I strongly believe that [Rabei’i] is not a threat to the security of the United States and hope that the Board will agree based on the information we have presented, and even more importantly, on [Rabei’i’s] answers here today”.

His private counsel, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, contended that upon release, Rabei’i would be a beneficiary of Reprieve’s “Life After Guantanamo” program, “which provides a host of vital support mechanisms that carry our clients through the stages of re-integration”. Sullivan-Bennis said that she had met with members of Rabei’i and members of his family multiple times, that he “has an impressive network of family to provide both emotional and financial support, wherever he is resettled”, and that his education while at Guantanamo Bay and his “meticulously written homework assignments”  are evidence that he is “dedicated” – “a trait that will serve him well in application to a new trade and in learning new life skills upon release”.

pentagon

The Pentagon

The hearing

The hearing commenced about 9:04 and ended at about 9:25. Today’s video feed was fuzzier than in the past, and the audio was also lacking. The audio and visual had definitely been better at other Pentagon PRBs, in this same conference room.

Rabei’i sat at the head of a small white rectangular table that appeared to be in a Guantanamo Bay “trailer” (and not in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom). On the long side of the table to his left sat his personal representative in a U.S. military uniform. Directly across from her, to Rabei’i’s right, sat the linguist. Next to the linguist was the private counsel, sitting closest to the camera.

Throughout the 21 minute hearing, Rabei’i sat with his back rigidly straight, almost perfectly still, with his arms resting on the arms of the chair. He wore a white t-shirt with sleeves that barely covered his elbows. The screen was so fuzzy that it was unclear whether his narrow face sported a closely cropped beard, only a mustache, or no facial hair at all. The hair on his head was full, but not long. The very top of his head was not in the camera frame.

The personal representative and private counsel read their statements in English, and the English was interpreted by an off camera female voice.

Around 9:24, seconds before the hearing was set to end, just after his private counsel finished reading her remarks, Rabei’i began to move. He slowly picked up a sheet of paper or two and flipped it over, and did the same thing again with more paper.

A male off-camera voice called for a 15 minute recess. The Pentagon screens went blank when Guantanamo Bay cut our feed. The “public” session of the PRB was over. In 15 minutes they would commence the PRB’s classified portion which we were not permitted to attend.

The NGOs, the media, and our escort and technician left the secure room. The NGOs and media picked up our cameras and cell phones, and were escorted out of the Pentagon.

Faisel Sadat and I took the Metro from Virginia where the Pentagon is to DC. We are looking forward to two PRBs next week – Tuesday (Election Day) and Thursday). Thus far, Faisel is the only Indiana McKinney representative, besides me, to attend a PRB. Faisel has also attended several Guantanamo Bay Military Commission hearings at Ft. Meade, Maryland, that are also broadcast by CCTV from Guantanamo.

The PRBs are currently being conducted pursuant to President Obama’s Executive Order. There is speculation as to whether the next President will continue or abandon the PRB process.

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

 

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 and 7 Americans.

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 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 schedule, 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.

Libyan Detainee Skips Guantanamo Bay Parole Hearing

al libbi - image

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

al libbi - image

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

DSC_0943

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.

Pentagon holds hearing on whether to release Yemeni detainee Zakariya

Omar Mohammed Ali al-Rammah - Internment Serial Number 1017

Omar Mohammed Ali al-Rammah – Internment Serial Number 1017 (“Zakariya”)

I was back at the Pentagon today at 7:30 a.m. (Thursday, 21 July 2016) to monitor the Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing during which Yemeni detainee # 1017 asked the U.S. government to release him from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba prison after being held there for over 13 years, about one-third of his life.

Omar Mohammed Ali al-Rammah, who is referred to as “Zakariya” by his U.S. Government personal representative and “Zakaria” by 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 Guantanamo detainees can either be repatriated to their home country, or resettled in a third country.

Currently, 76 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, down from the approximately 780 detainees who have been held at the remote prison since January 2002.

pentagonMonitoring today’s PRB

After winding down Pentagon corridors, my escort and I arrived at the non-descript conference room where we would watch live feed direct from Guantanamo. We were later joined by 3 NGO representatives and several military officials.

The PRB was scheduled to begin at 9:00, but Guantanamo informed us that we would be on a 5-10 minute delay. While waiting, we caught the tail end of a Military History Channel show on Gettysburg, and heard details of battle strategy successes and failures, the carnage, and how Gettysburg got its name.

military history channelWe then watched the beginning of The Wehrmacht: The Turning Point, that shifted us from the American Civil War to World War II.

At 9:06 or so, the Military History Channel was switched to the video-conference platform, and we could see Zakariya, his U.S. Government-appointed personal representative, his private counsel, and a linguist, sitting around a small, rectangular table in what looks like a Guantanamo Bay trailer.

The PRB commenced at 9:08.

The large screen image of the Guantanamo participants was a bit grainy, though I could see the faces of the linguist, he personal representative, and private counsel pretty well. Zakariya sat furthest from the camera, and his image was not as neatly visible, such that it wasn’t clear to me whether he had a closely cropped beard or was clean shaven. (It was clear that he did not have a big, bushy beard as last week’s detainee had.)

Zakariya wore an elbow length white garment, like a classy rounded-neck tunic, with what appeared from a distance to be an emblem or logo on the left breast. His rounded glasses complemented a face that looked young, compared to the faces of some of the detainees I have seen via video at the Pentagon and Ft. Meade, and whom I’ve seen in person at Guantanamo Bay.

Zakariya had three stacks of paper in front of him, and during the hearing he would periodically shuffle the pages. He’d pick up a sheet from one stack and place it in another stack, then later do the same with another sheet, then later shift the paper back to the original or the third stack. At times he sat seemingly patiently, with his hands folded gently on the table-top.

The linguist uttered not a word the entire hearing. The voice of unseen interpreter would at times chime in, with the interpretation being one way – with the non-Arabic speakers speaking to Zakariya.

Zakariya did not speak in the public portion of his PRB, as he is not permitted to do so.

Why? Because everything that Zakariya says is presumed to be classified, and the public is not entitled to be privy to classified information. So, NGOs, media, and others without security clearances cannot hear a detainee speak directly at his PRB. Some detainees appear to authorize their PRB transcripts to be posted on Periodic Review Secretariat’s (PRS’s) website.

After formalities, presented off-camera by male and female voices, the personal representative read his one page Opening Statement. Then the private counsel read her two page Opening Statement.

No PRB member had any questions. The public session ended about 18 – 19 minutes after it began.

Zakariya’s background – early life & leading up to capture

Zakariya was born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but his family is by blood Yemeni.

His personal representative indicated that in the 1990s Zakariya traveled to Bosnia to help protect Muslims there. After being injured, he returned home for a couple of years before traveling to Chechnya to help Muslims there, and then after further training in Afghanistan traveled to the Republic of Georgia. He was captured in Georgia, transferred to Afghanistan for a year, and then sent to Guantanamo Bay. He is approximately 40 or 41 years of age.

U.S. Government’s view of Zakariya’s activities

Zakariya’s personal representative’s comments about Zakariya’s time in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Georgia are consistent with what the Government outlined in an unclassified summary it read into the record at this morning’s PRB. But, the Government version includes specific allegations not mentioned in the personal representative’s statement (or the private counsel’s statements).

The Government’s unclassified statement states that Zakariya was “a trusted but low-level mujahidin facilitator” and he “arranged to acquire fraudulent passports, and sought to acquire weapons, ammunition and other supplies for mujahidin operations in Chechnya”.

No contact with Zakariya’s family; Life after Guantanamo?

In today’s remarks, all sides agreed that Zakariya had had no contact with family since his arrival at Guantanamo Bay, and that he has little formal education. While the Government states that “he has not articulated any plans or hopes for his life after release”, his private counsel stated that “he would like to work in a store, perhaps one selling sweets, or drive a taxi”. Furthermore, the private counsel stated that Reprieve’s “Life After Guantanamo” program “has agreed that Zakaria can participate in that program”, and that two international law firms (including the private counsel’s firm — Kelly, Drye & Warren), “are committed to continuing our work as his lawyers to give him or find for him whatever assistance is needed.”

The U.S. Government Unclassified Summary for Zakariya, that was read into the record today by a faceless female off-camera voice, is here:

 

The Opening Statement of Zakariya’s U.S. Government’s Personal Representative and the Opening Statement of Zakariya’s Private Counsel are here:

 

What is a PRB?

Today’s hearing is a Periodic Review Board (PRB), and was conducted pursuant to a 2011 Executive Order which has required most detainees to have a “periodic review” of their detention status. Though Zakariya has had similar reviews under now defunct processes, this was his “initial review” (or “initial PRB”) under the 2011 procedure.

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 60 the 76 men remaining captive at Guantanamo are entitled to PRBs per the rules, and about 55 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.

Yesterday, 20 July 2016, the Pentagon released PRB hearing dates for 7 additional detainees, with roughly 2 scheduled each week in August 2016. I was informed that an additional 3 PRBs will be scheduled, and these will be the final “initial reviews” for all of the detainees eligible for PRBs.

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

Who else was present at the PRB?

As mentioned, present in the room in which Zakariya sat were his personal representative, his private counsel and a linguist. Four NGO representatives and several military officials could see those four people on two screens in our Pentagon conference room.

Hidden voices announced other people who were present for the hearings, though none of these others who were “present” could be seen by us at the Pentagon. Presumably these others were in virtually attendance, with some of them persona even viewing from a different room at the Pentagon. Some who were present were certainly on sight at Guantanamo Bay.

Others present for the PRB but out of sight included members of the “Board” itself that conducts the PRBs, and that consisted 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. Presumably each of those representatives will watch remotely in his or her office in the DC area. Also present but out of sight were re the Legal Advisor to the Board; the Case Administrator; a Hearing Clerk; and a Security Officer.  And, as suggested, staff at Guantanamo Bay were necessarily present, and also out of sight.

Other information – PRB, Other proceedings

The Government is expected to release additional PRB-related documents over the next couple of days.

FYI, the New York Times has posted 5 documents related to this detainee, and prior reviews for possible release (http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/1017-omar-mohammed-ali-al-rammah):

  1. Combat Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) Summary
  2. Administrative Review Board (ARBs) (3 documents)
  3. Joint Task Force – Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) Assessment

 The Pentagon’s PRB Conference Room

I mentioned in a previous post that I would share a little about the conference room where the PRBs are viewed.

The office suite that contains the conference room has always looked as though no one works there. Maybe its occupants take leave when the PRBs are aired in their conference room.

The suite has large windows commanding a spectacular view of Washington, DC monuments across the Potomac. Inside, 10 leather high-back chairs surround a slender diamond-shaped table, that has a hidden compartment where our “missing” conference call spider telephone was finally found after phone and video-chat messages saying “we can’t find the phone to connect to the PRB”. The rich blue carpet complemented the wood and leather, and even matched the dozen grayish and red low-back chairs lining the walls.

On the walls hand five or six blown up photographs depicting soldiers being greeted by family when coming home, parachuters peering out of a helicopter hovering over a packed Navy football stadium, and other military scenes.  In the corner behind the door was a bold, snazzy poster for Armed Forces Day, 21 May 2016, with the slogan “Americas Military – Guardians of Freedom”.

Basically, it was just a regular conference room. But it happened to have a live video connection to one of the most inaccessible, secretive prisons that exists anywhere in the world.

 George Edwards

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Three Guantanamo detainees cleared for release; A fourth held as continuing threat

Department of Defense LogoIn July 2016, Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) cleared three detainees for release, and found that a fourth detainee posed a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and would not be cleared for release.

These detainees, each of whom has each been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, each had argued in separate PRB hearings that he should was not a threat, and that he should be repatriated to his home country or resettled in a third country.

Those cleared between 6 and 11 July 2016 were: Muhammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim (ISN 044), of Yemen, who requested that he not be sent home to Yemen; Shawqi Awad Balzuhair (ISN 838), also of Yemen; and Abdul Latif Nasir (ISN 244), of Morocco, and whom the PRB recommended be released only to Morocco.  The PRB did not clear for release Said bin Brahim bin Umran Bakush (ISN 685) of Algeria.

As an example of a PRB decision in which a detainee is cleared, I quote below the full text of the PRB decision in the case of Shawqi Awad Balzuhair (ISN 838)

The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer 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’s degree of involvement and significance in extremist activities has been reassessed to be that of a low-level fighter. The Board also noted the detainee’s lack of expression of support for extremist ideologies, the detainee’s compliance record at Guantanamo, and the detainee’s lack of ongoing extremist ties.

The Board recommends transfer, with the appropriate security assurances as negotiated by the Special Envoys and agreed to by relevant USG departments and agencies.

The PRB decision in the case of Said bin Brahim bin Umran Bakush of Algeria (denial of release) is found here:

 

The Periodic Review Board Secretariat today announced that 7 additional PRBs have been scheduled for detainees in August 2016.

The Periodic Review Boards are being studied by the Period Review Board (PRB) Project of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

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Yemeni Detainee Expected to Request Release from Guantanamo

Omar Mohammed Ali al-Rammah - Internment Serial Number 1017

Omar Mohammed Ali al-Rammah – Internment Serial Number 1017 – Will ask a special Guantanamo Board for his freedom

On Thursday, 21 July 2016, Omar Mohammed Ali al-Rammah (ISN 1017), who is a Guantanamo Bay detainee from Yemen, will likely tell a group of U.S. officials that he is not a threat to U.S. national security, and he should be repatriated to Yemen or resettled in a 3rd country.

al Rammah is about 40 or 41 years of age, was born in Yemen, and has been held at Guantanamo Bay for just over 13 years. He will argue for his freedom from the prison where he has lived for almost a third of his life.

This hearing at which al Rammah will argue is called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), and will be conducted pursuant to a 2011 Executive Order which has required most detainees to have a “periodic review” of their detention status. Though Al Rammah has had similar reviews under now defunct processes, this is his “initial review” (or “initial PRB”) under the 2011 procedure.

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 60 the 76 men remaining captive at Guantanamo are entitled to PRBs per the rules, and about 55 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.

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

What will al Rammah’s PRB be like?

al Rammah’s initial review on Thursday will likely be similar to the 55 or so initial reviews held since the 2011 Executive Order was implemented in 2013. His will be the second PRB I attend, with my first being that of Ismael Ali Farag al Bakush held on Thursday, 14 July 2016, after my being denied permission to attend earlier PRBs multiple times. I now have a clearer idea of what to expect.

I suspect that representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will be present with me at the Pentagon on Thursday, and possibly some media.

Others present for the hearing will include members of the “Board” itself that conducts the PRBs, and that consisted 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. 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.

Intelligence gathered on al Rammah

It was been contended that al Rammah traveled to Afghanistan to help support the Mujahedin, and later joined and fought for the Taliban and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).  He allegedly trained at various camps, developed expertise in explosives, and pledged to overthrow the government of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. It has been said that if he is not repatriated to his home country of Yemen and is instead resettled to a 3rd country, he would prefer that it be any Arabic-speaking country other than Libya.

He is said to have been captured in the Republic of Georgia, while living in the Pankisi Gorge area of that country.

The Government is expected to release additional PRB-related documents over the next couple of days.

FYI, the New York Times has posted 5 documents related to this detainee, and prior reviews for possible release (http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/1017-omar-mohammed-ali-al-rammah):

  1. Combat Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) Summary (1 document)
  2. Administrative Review Board (ARBs) (3 documents)
  3. Joint Task Force – Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) Assessment (1 document)

George Edwards

Founder, Periodic Review Board (PRB) Project

_______

My travel to observe Guantanamo Bay hearings in the case against alleged 9/11 plotters

Klein & Edwards at Ft. Meade Commisary -- 18 July 2016

At the Ft. Meade Commissary.

 Today I traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to observe pre-trial hearings in the criminal case against 5 alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The hearings are being broadcast live from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, into the Post Theater at the Fort Meade Army Base, and can be viewed there by media, human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), victims and victims’ families, and other stakeholders.

I traveled there as an official NGO Observer sponsored by the Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), which Professor George Edwards founded at Indiana University McKinney School of Law. Our Project, which is also referred to as the Gitmo Observer, has sent dozens of IU McKinney Affiliates — faculty, staff, students and graduates  — to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Ft. Meade to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on these hearings.

My trip to Maryland – Sunday

I flew to Maryland last night, and had time to re-review the wealth of background material the Project provided.  One important resource is the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual – with lead author Professor Edwards, and whose researchers have included many IU McKinney affiliates. The Manual provides significant information — general and basic, as well as highly specialized information — about the military commissions. It summarizes the applicable law, explains the charges, identifies the individuals and entities who have rights and interests associated with the tribunal, describes a plan that Observes might follow as they carry out their observation mission, and even provides a chart of a who’s who in the courtroom. The Manual is a must read for anyone interested in Guantanamo Bay hearings.

Dean Klein & Professor Edwards in front of the McGill Training Center, the new site for Guantanamo video viewing.

We are in front of the McGill Training Center, the new site for Guantanamo video viewing.

Closed hearing – Monday morning

Early this morning I met Professor Edwards at the hotel, and discussed final details before we went to the army base, which happens to be the home of the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence entities.

We were forced to modify our plans to observe hearings of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad (who was waterboarded 183 times) and the other 4 defendants accused of planning the September 11th attacks. We learned that the military judge decided that today’s hearings would be “closed”, meaning that Observers were not permitted to observe. I was disappointed that I would not have a chance to witness today’s hearings. But, it was still a very worthwhile trip.

 What we did at Ft. Meade – hurdles & highlights

The day had highlights and hurdles.  I’ll mention some below.

First, Fort Meade recently instituted security procedures that require new visitors to stop at the Visitor Center at the base’s Main Gate (Reece Road Gate) and collect a hard plastic badge. Ordinarily Observers would submit their personal information 10 days before they arrive for a hearing, and can pick up their sturdy badges quickly at the Visitor Center.  These procedures apply not only to military commission observers, but also to anyone with business on the base, and includes civilians visiting family.

We arrived at the Visitor Center to pick up my badge. We had quite a wait. There were dozens of other people also seeking to get badges. I was grateful that Professor Edwards had a permanent Ft. Meade badge, which made it easier for me to get processed in.  The good news is that once you get cleared, you can swipe your badge at any of the gates and drive onto the base, directly to the viewing site.

A word to the wise for IU  McKinney Affiliates who plan to observe Guantanamo Bay hearings at Fort Meade:  Bring your drivers’ license and passport, and arrive early.

Dean Klein reading a copy of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual -- Volume I.

The Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual is an invaluable tool to help prepare for an Observation mission.

Second, after I gained clearance to enter the base, Professor Edwards and I went to the McGill Training Center, which will soon be the new permanent site for video observations of Guantanamo proceedings.  (Until now, all the video hearings were broadcast into a large auditorium at the Post Theater, where they show feature films in the evenings and on weekends.)  A staff member escorted Professor Edwards and me through the training center, and explained that the site change had been made for several reasons, including the ability to move hearings to a variety of different rooms to enhance security by keeping exact screening locations unknown until the hearings take place.  Most of the rooms at the training center are also much smaller than the Post Theater auditorium, which may make sense since at times only a small number of Observers attend hearings on the base.

Outside the Post Theater, where "Central Intelligence" was being screened -- $6.00 for adults, and $3.50 for children.

Outside the Post Theater, where “Central Intelligence” was being screened — $6.00 for adults, and $3.50 for children.

Third, Professor Edwards and I went by the Post Theater, where many IU McKinney Affiliates have viewed Guantanamo proceedings. Unfortunately, the doors were locked and we couldn’t go inside. But, based on what I have heard about the actual theater – that happens to be showing the PG film “Central Intelligence” now (see photo) – it’s very much like a Broadway theater with a big screen set up on the stage to show the Guantanamo Bay feed.

Fourth, Professor Edwards was able to brief me on the status of the Khalid Shaikh Mohammad 9/11 hearings, the substance of some of the upcoming motion hearings that I had hoped to observe today, other cases pending for trial, and the one convicted detainee who is awaiting sentencing.  He also briefed me on the Periodic Review Board (PRB) that he observed at the Pentagon on Thursday the 14th, in which a Libyan detainee asked the Board to send him back to Libya or to a third country for resettlement. That PRB observation is through the IU McKinney Periodic Review Board Project.

Fifth, it was good to tour the facilities mentioned above. It was also interesting to drive around the base, appreciate its size and the breadth of work performed there.

Klein at Ft. Meade - in front of Post Theater sign - 18 July 2016

Another shot in front of the Post Theater

Conclusion

Although I was disappointed that I could not observe a hearing today, I am glad that I made the trip, and I am proud that the McKinney School of Law and our Military Commission Observation Project provides this very special opportunity to members of our community.

Every IU McKinney Affiliate – faculty, staff, student, graduate — is invited to register for the possibility of undertaking an Observer mission to Ft. Meade, or to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, itself.  Details about this process can be found here.

By Andrew (Andy) Klein

Dean & Beam Professor of Law

Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Posted by George Edwards on behalf of Dean Klein

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Indiana Law Dean Travels to Ft. Meade for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Hearings

Klein & Edwards at Ft. Meade Commisary -- 18 July 2016

Dean Klein (right) and Professor Edwards at the Ft. Meade Commissary.

Andy Klein, dean of the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to observe war crimes hearings broadcast live from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Dean Klein was an official Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Observer, sponsored by IU McKinney’s Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), that was founded by Professor George Edwards, who joined Dean Klein on this observation mission.

The Pentagon granted the IU McKinney project permission to send IU McKinney Affiliates — students, faculty, staff, and graduates — to Guantanamo Bay to view proceedings live and to Ft. Meade to view via secure video feed. Dean Klein is the most recent of the dozens of IU McKinney Affiliates selected for observation missions, during which they attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on these hearings.

Klein & Edwards at Ft. Meade Post Theater -- 18 July 2016

Dean Klein & Professor Edwards at Ft. Meade’s Post Theater, where war crimes hearings from Guantanamo Bay are viewed during the day, and “Central Intelligence” and other movies are viewed at night.

This week’s pre-trial hearings, scheduled for 18 – 22 July, are in the criminal case against five alleged masterminds of and participants in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. They include Khalid Shaik Mohammed, who is the alleged chief architect of the 9/11 attacks, along with four others including alleged would-be hijackers who were prevented from participating due to visa denials and other reasons, men who allegedly transferred money for the flight training for hijackers, and men who otherwise assisted in the plot that resulted in almost 3,000 dead. Their charges include murder in violation of the laws of war and hijacking.

Typically, first time NGO Observers, such as Dean Klein, stop at the Ft. Meade Visitor Center to gain clearance and then pick up a badge to enter the base.

Dean Klein noted that though they arrived early to pick up his badge they had “quite a wait, made longer because they didn’t have my original paperwork submitted weeks ago and I had to re-register on the spot. Also, there were dozens of other people also seeking to get badges. Fortunately Professor Edwards already had his permanent Ft. Meade badge, which made it easier for me to get processed in.”

Dean Klein & Professor Edwards in front of the McGill Training Center, the new site for Guantanamo video viewing.

Dean Klein & Professor Edwards in front of the McGill Training Center, the new site for Guantanamo video viewing.

After the badging process, NGO Observers then travel to the base’s secure viewing site, which has been the Post Theater (that also shows feature films on weekends), but is shifting to the McGill Training Center, also on the base.

When Dean Klein and Professor Edwards arrived at the viewing center, it was confirmed that the military judge presiding over the 9/11 case had decided that today’s hearings would be “closed”, meaning that NGOs Observers were not permitted to observe.  Both Dean Klein and Professor Edwards noted that despite the absence of an open hearing, the pair had a productive morning at Ft. Meade.

Dean Klein said “I was disappointed that today’s hearings were closed. But, coming to Ft. Meade has offered great insights into our Military Commission Observation Project, and the contributions of IU McKinney on the topic of rights and interests of all Guantanamo Bay stakeholders. Our trip to Ft. Meade was very worthwhile.”

Professor Edwards said “If the hearings had been open, Dean Klein and I would not have been able to tour facilities that would have been unavailable during an open session, and we would not have been able to talk with people who would have been otherwise engaged during an open hearing. Our behind-the-scenes experience at Ft. Meade was enlightening, and would not have been possible had we been watching video feed from Guantanamo that day”.

All IU McKinney Observers contribute to the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual, of which Professor Edwards is the main author, that provides significant information — general and basic, as well as highly specialized information — about the military commissions. The Manual also contains information about Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Boards, special proceedings held at Guantanamo Bay and viewable on video at the Pentagon, during which Guantanamo detainees may request repatriation to their home country or resettlement in a third country.

Dean Klein reading a copy of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual -- Volume I.

Dean Klein reading a copy of the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual — Volume I.

The Manual summarizes the applicable law, explains the charges, identifies the individuals and entities who have rights and interests associated with the tribunal, describes a plan that Observes might follow as they carry out their observation mission, and even provides a chart of a who’s who in the courtroom.

Dean Klein said: The Manual is a must read for anyone interested in Guantanamo Bay hearings, and a special must read for anyone doing an Observation mission to Ft. Meade or Guantanamo Bay.”

Dean Klein summarized his Ft. Meade experience, and his recognition of Professor Edwards and his Guantanamo Bay work:

Although I was disappointed that I could not observe a hearing today, I am glad that I made the trip, and I am proud that the McKinney School of Law and our Military Commission Observation Project provides this very special opportunity to members of our community.

Professor Edwards noted that “every IU McKinney Affiliate – faculty, staff, student, graduate — is invited to register for the possibility of undertaking an Observer mission to Ft. Meade, or to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, itself.  Details about this process can be found on the IU McKinney website. We hope that our Affiliates may also be able to observe Periodic Review Boards at the Pentagon, and we will post notices if Pentagon observation opportunities become available to assist out Periodic Review Board Project”.

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Libyan Detainee Requests Release from Guantanamo

GTMO - ismael-ali-farag-al-bakush - ISN 708 -- 1

Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush, Guantanamo Prision # ISN 708, asked Board to release him

This morning, Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush (ISN 708), who is a Guantanamo Bay detainee from Libya, pleaded to a group of U.S. officials that he is not a threat to U.S. national security, and he should be repatriated to Libya or resettled in a 3rd country. Bakush is around 47 or 48 years of age, and has been held at Guantanamo Bay for a month shy of 14 years. Today he argued for his freedom from the prison, where he has lived for almost a third of his life.

This hearing, which is called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), was conducted pursuant to a 2011 Executive Order which has required most detainees to have a “periodic review” of their detention status. Though Bakush has had similar reviews under now defunct processes, this is his “initial review” (or “initial PRB”) under the 2011 procedure.

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 60 the 76 men remaining captive at Guantanamo are entitled to PRBs per the rules, and about 55 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.

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

Getting to the PRB hearing; the other observers

Bakush’s initial review today was likely similar to the 55 or so initial reviews held since the 2011 Executive Order was implemented in 2013. Today’s PRB was my first, having multiple times been denied permission to observe. I had some sense of what to expect, having read reports from media and non-media representatives who had viewed earlier PRBs, but I also believe that the more qualified people who observe the proceedings first hand, the greater the transparency.

I was up early to take the Metro from DC to the Pentagon, which is where PRB observation takes place now, rather than its earlier viewing location at a Virginia building near the Pentagon. It was suggested that we arrive at the Pentagon not long after 7:00 a.m., to be certain that all security and other formalities would be completed so we could adjourn to a special conference room before the 9:00 scheduled PRB start.

When I was at the Pentagon a few months ago, the new Visitor Entrance was under construction, and it was cramped and unwieldy to gain access to the mammoth facility. The new Visitor Entrance is markedly updated and spacious, with significantly more x-ray machines and other security measures in place. Though no clear signage instructed visitors to the appropriate queues (e.g., no sign for the uniformed military personnel line or the “other” line), it was still quite easy and quick to be processed – at least at that hour on a Thursday morning.

After clearing security, I entered into the Visitor Waiting Area (after another guard made certain that I still had the Visitors Badge that had been handed to me just a few yards before I passed through the airport-like metal detectors), where I was soon joined by what appeared to be contractors, uniformed military personnel, a high school group, an ROTC group, a group of dozens of Japanese military personnel clad in crisp white uniforms, and others – waiting to be escorted into the Pentagon proper.

Two representatives from the Periodic Review Secretariat (PRS) came to collect the 5 non-media observers, and we all processed into the main complex and walked down multiple hallways in the Pentagon maze. Though I know the names of our escorts, and the name of the offices that housed the conference room where we observed, out of an abundance of caution, I will not provide details of them.

The 4 other observers consisted of a an undergraduate intern from a different DC-based organization, a person who had graduated from law school a year or so ago and was working for a DC-based organization, an investigator from a DC-based organization along with that person’s undergraduate intern. I did ask myself about the observer selection process, taking into account the rounds of application submission / denial / application supplements I went through to get cleared for 2 specific hearings only.

Coincidentally, I knew one of the other observers from another organization with which she had been previously affiliated.

pentagonReaching the Pentagon hearing room

We observers and our military escorts snaked our way down multiple, high-ceilinged corridors in the complex, passing pale nondescript doorways and archways that led to seemingly reinforced entry points into high-security areas. We arrived at the door of an office that looked like a typical government office like those I had seen in any number of other Departments or Agencies – standard desks and chairs, file cabinets and computers, and clutter.

no-electronic-devices-clipart-1Off to the side of that office was a door leading into what I would learn was the conference room where we would observe the hearings. Before reaching that conference room door, we had to relieve ourselves of our electronic devices – phones, laptops, iPad, Fitbit – anything with an on / off switch. We placed all of our items on a table.

Several of us went on a Starbucks run, down to the Pentagon’s expansive restaurant area. It was like any other Starbucks, except that while standing in line our group could not fiddle with our mobile phones, as we had already been liberated of them. It gave me a chance to become reacquainted with the young lawyer observer whom I had met before.

Getting situated in the hearing room

After refreshments, we winded our way back to the nondescript office. It was almost 9:00, the time for the PRB to begin.

We filed past the table that held our electronics, and entered the conference room. We sat around a conference room table that seemed to have just enough seats for the 5 observers, our escorts and a couple of other Department of Defense people who joined us, both uniformed and non-uniformed.

The observers all were required to sign another document (in addition to the Ground Rules we previously signed), this one swearing that we knew the rules related to SCIFs — sensitive compartmented information facilities – and that we were complying with those rules, including not having recording devices in our possession. Another reminder to us to double-check our pockets for extra mobile phones, etc.

This conference room was very small, packed with the conference table and chairs, and lots of other equipment occupying almost every square inch of the room’s real estate, including, as I recall, the walls.

There was a big screen on one wall, positioned such that almost no one in the room had a natural, straightforward view of it. I chose a seat from which at least I didn’t have to turn my body to see the screen.

As 9:00 got closer, the Observers shared small talk. Others in the room sat quietly doing their jobs related to the technical aspects of the hearing, or maybe perhaps observing the observers–I’m not sure.

The Guantanamo side of the camera – the PRB begins

Initially I sought to absorb the environment of the room, but I also focused on signing the SCIF form and exchanging pleasantries with fellow observers (Have you attended a PRB before? You’re a college junior – do you plan to go to law school? What issues are you working on as a summer intern at your organization?)

All of a sudden, we began to hear distant voices over the web-shaped speaker nestled in the center of the conference room table. Audio checks.

Almost precisely on time, the screen came to life. We could see a small, barren-walled claustrophobic room in which sat a very small rectangular table with 3 chairs, which was surrounded by 3 men.

For all PRBs the detainee is physically in Guantanamo Bay. During the hearing, he sits at the head of the rectangular table on the Guantanamo Base, flanked by a linguist who sat at a place setting on one side of the table. The linguist sits directly across from the detainee’s Government-appointed personal representative. Seated on 3 sides at the end of a rectangular table, the arrangements would have been suitable for a shared meal among the 3, or board games. Had Bakush had private counsel, perhaps that person would also have sat at the table.

A video camera is pointed towards the three sitting at the Guantanamo table. The camera faced Bakush head on, and captured the right side of the face of the linguist’s and the left side of the face of the personal representative. The linguist and the personal representative had to turn their heads slightly to see and speak directly into the camera.

At 9:08, a few minutes past the appointed hour, the hearing began.

Eyes naturally gravitated to the focus of the hearings – on Bakush. He appeared hunched forward over the stack of white papers on the table, dressed in white gown flannel-like top that may have been local to Libya. His full, long, seemingly dark beard appeared to touch the table as he leaned forward. The screen appeared to be a little fuzzy, so I cleaned my glasses. The screen was still fuzzy, with the faces a bit blurred.

Bakush’s facial expressions appeared not to change dramatically throughout the 13-minute hearing. It was impossible to know whether he understood what was being said or read, as virtually the entire hearing was conducted in English, and I do not know if he understands English. He waived reading of the unclassified government document in Arabic.

Was Bakush emotionless during the PRB? Was he detached or interested? It is impossible to know what was going on in his mind, and it does not do justice to try to read what could be made out of his expressions, his mannerisms, or his posture.

As documents were being read into the record in English, Bakush from time to time would flip through white papers sitting in front of him on the table. I do now know what, if anything, was written on those sheets, or what language any text might have been. Perhaps those pages contained his own personal statement that he would read into the record later? The observers were not permitted to stay in the room while he, through his own mouth, made his personal plea for release from Guantanamo.

A distant voice was heard listing out the titles / roles of various people who were present at the hearing, either at Guantanamo in the hearing room, or elsewhere.

Others present for the hearings included members of the “Board” itself that conducts the PRBs, and that consisted 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. Presumably each of those representatives watched remotely in his or her office in the DC area. Also present for the hearing were the Legal Advisor to the Board; the Case Administrator; a Hearing Clerk; and a Security Officer, though it is not clear where these individuals were located at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.

The PRB hearing itself

The PRB hearing itself lasted a total of about 13 minutes. The clock on the wall had a time different from the time announced by the distant voice piped in through the speakers, and those times were different from the time on my watch. I didn’t catch the precise number of minutes. I thought I would be able to see the time on the transcript, but the Pentagon posted a notice indicating that Bakush requested that the public transcript of his hearing not be posted online.

Suffice it to say that the hearing was very short.

After the roll call of attendees that began the hearing, a voice said something like this — “This board is called to order. This board is convened to determine whether continued law of war detention is warranted for detainee [Ismael] in order to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” [Quote based on notes and was not verified as the transcript was not available on the PRS website online after the hearing.]

The first document read into the record, in English, was the Government’s Unclassified Statement. It was read by a woman who did not appear on camera. It answer the question of who does the U.S. Government believe Bakush is and what does the U.S. Government believe Bakush did. Essentially, the Statement summarized reasons that the U.S. believed that Bakush poses a continuing threat to U.S. National Security.

Government views on “Who is Bakush”?

First, it should be noted that the allegations that the government made against Bakush in its unclassified summary are not criminal charges. That is, the government has not levied any criminal charges against him in the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commissions. These allegations related to the Government’s assessment as to whether Bakush is a threat to US national security and whether he should be released from detention.

The unclassified summary document alleges that Bakush alleges in definite terms that Bakush “was a Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) explosives expert who trained al-Qaida members”, and he “developed close relationships with several al Qaida leaders and provided explosives training to LIFG and al Qaida operatives, including some who later conducted attacks in Kuwait and Morocco”.

A number of other allegations against Bakush were couched in more tentative terms, such as “probably” – he “probably” “associated with and provided operational support to” key al Qaida figures. He “probably” was in Afghanistan from 1991 – 1994, and again starting in 1998.. He “probably helped” al Qaida, and “communicated regularly with prominent” al Qaida figures, including “possibly” Abu Zubaydah and “probably” senior al Qaida leader Abu Faraj al-Libi. However, using stronger language, one allegation was that he “almost certainly” “plotted to kill Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi”

The full text of the Government’s Unclassified Statement follows:

 

Bakush’s Government Appointed Opening Personal Statement

Bakush’s U.S. Government-Appointed Personal Representative, dressed in fatigues, said in his Opening Statement that he was “presenting “Bakush’s case this morning”. He said that Bakush had “been cooperative and receptive while meeting with me”, and that Bakush “is eager and excited to begin a new chapter in his life.” He said that Bakush “has learned to be more opened minded [sic], tolerant and accepting to others while living in a communal living setting”, and that Bakush “believes that his communal living arrangement allows him more opportunities to gain exposure for himself to other detainees’ cultural and religious backgrounds”, and as a result, Bakush “now respects and values the opinions of others from various cultural backgrounds”.

The Personal Representative said that he “was not able to contact [Bakush’s] family, but understand from our discussions that his mother has properties that would enable her to offer [Bakush] financial support. His cousin is employed and is also willing to help [Bakush] financially”. It was not mentioned why the Personal Representative was unable to contact Bakush’s mother, to find out firsthand about the “properties that would enable her to offer [Bakush] financial support”, or could not contact the employed cousin who “is also willing to help [Bakush] financially. Would it be practicable to release Bakush based on his being able to receive family assistance, if the Personal Representative is unable to contact these family members?

The Personal Representative spoke about how Bakush “enjoys watching and playing many sports such as soccer and swimming”, has taken classis in health and life skills, and enjoys cooking for others. Bakush “would like to work in the restaurant industry”. He looks forward to having his own family, and to raising children of his own. He would prefer to live in an Arabic speaking country, but “is willing to relocate to a country that provides him opportunities for a successful future”. He is “willing to participate in a rehabilitation or reintegration program as well”.

Then, the Bakush’s US Government-Appointed Personal Representative of Bakush read the Personal Representative’s Opening Statement, the full text of which follows:

 

The following document appeared on the PRS website following the hearing, and indicates that Bakush requested to not have his own written PRB statement published to the website:

 

The following document appeared on the PRS website following the hearing, and indicates that Bakush requested to not have the transcript of his PRB published to the website.

 

FYI, the New York Times has posted http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/708-ismael-ali-farag-al-bakush/documents/115 documents related to this detainee, and prior reviews for possible release:

  1. Combat Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) Summary
  2. Administrative Review Board (ARBs) (3 documents)
  3. Joint Task Force – Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) Assessment

George Edwards

_______

Permission Granted to Observe Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Boards (PRB)

GTMO - ismael-ali-farag-al-bakush - ISN 708

Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush will ask Periodic Review Board for his freedom from Guantanamo Bay on 14 July 2016

For the better part of ½ year I have been seeking Pentagon permission to observe Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) at which a detainee is permitted to argue that he does not pose a threat to U.S. national security, and he should be repatriated to his home country or resettled in a 3rd country.

The Pentagon office responsible for selecting PRB observers sent me multiple informal denials, and requests for me to supplement my observer applications. Finally, after the series of written and oral requests, this morning the Pentagon notified me that I had “been approved to attend the PRB Unclassified Public session for Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush (ISN 708) on 14 July 2016 and Omar Mohammed Ali Al-Rammah (ISN 1017) on 21 July 2016”.

I was surprised. I would finally be permitted to observe a “parole” hearing to which close to 60 of the remaining 76 detainees at Guantanamo were entitled per a 2011 Executive Order. About 55 of these men had already had this particular type of PRB – their “initial review”. 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.

I was glad to be permitted to observe 2 of the remaining initial reviews, since there would soon be no more initial reviews. The PRB Project of the Gitmo Observer would benefit from its Director (me) being permitted to witness these final PRBs.

But, there were still hurdles to overcome before observing.

First, I had to sign a set of “Ground Rules for Coverage of Periodic Review Boards”, and agree not to be embargoed from disclosing “protected information” that might be revealed during the public portion of the PRB, not to bring any electronic devices into the room, not to draw or sketch the likeness of any participants, among other things.

Then, I had to await instructions on accessing the theretofore undisclosed location of the PRB observation.

For all of the PRBs, the detainee is physically in Guantanamo Bay. During the hearing, he sits at a table in a small room on the Guantanamo Base, flanked by a linguist, and his Government-appointed personal representative. If he has private counsel, I presume that that person sits at the table as well.

A video camera is pointed towards those sitting at the Guantanamo table, and at the appointed hour signals are sent to participants and observers at various locations. The “Board” itself, that conducts the PRBs, consists of 1 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. Presumably each of those representatives is watching remotely in his or her office in the DC area. In the past, the media and non-media observers would watch in a room in a Virginia building near the Pentagon.

I was told that I would receive instructions / directions tomorrow.

In the meantime, I am researching Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush (ISN 708), the detainee whose PRB is scheduled for this Thursday. He is from Libya, is around 47 or 48, and has been held at Guantanamo Bay for a month shy of 14 years. He is alleged to have had military training at an al-Qaida training camp, and engaged in other activities against the U.S.

I look forward to discovering more about him, about his background and about those involved in his PRB. It is possible that the Board will ask him or his personal representative questions, the answers of which might provide information not contained in the documents published on the PRB website (www.prs.mil) or elsewhere publicly available.

The New York Times has 5 documents related to this detainee, and prior reviews for possible release:

  1. Combat Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) Summary
  2. Administrative Review Board (ARBs) (3 documents)
  3. Joint Task Force – Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) Assessment

I will report back after this PRB.