Periodic Review Secretariat

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

_______

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 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.