Guantanamo Detainee To Plead for Freedom at Special Hearing

Abdul Rabbani

Abdul Rabbani’s PRB is set for 7 July 2016

On Thursday, 7 July 2017, Guantanamo Bay detainee Abdul Rabbani is scheduled to have a chance officially to plead that he poses no threat to U.S. national security and should be released from Guantanamo.

He may speak at a hearing, called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), authorized by a 2011 Executive Order issued by President Obama. Detainees may argue for their freedom before a panel representing a cross-section of the U.S. national security community.

Rabbani is expected to appear in a small room at Guantanamo Bay, with a U.S. government provided military “special representative” at his side. He and the special representative may make statements, call witnesses, or invoke other rights. The review panel consists of representatives of the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Security – all viewing remotely, presumably via secure video-link from their Washington, DC area offices.

Over 50 PRB “initial reviews” have been held since 2013. After Rabbani’s PRB tomorrow, the last scheduled PRB is set for Thursday, 14 July 2016, for Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush (ISN 708), of Libya, who has been held at Guantanamo since 2002. For a chart of scheduled PRBs (past and future), please see the bottom of this link.

If after the “initial review”, a detainee is deemed not to be a significant threat to the US, arrangements may be sought for repatriating him to his home country or releasing him to a third country. If he is deemed a significant threat, he will have a “file review” every 6 months, and a “full review” every 3 years (“triennial review”).

Denial of me to observe PRBs at remote DC-area location

PRBs are also video-cast live from Guantanamo to a remote facility near the Pentagon, where specially approved media, non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, and individuals may view the public portion of the proceedings.

One would expect the PRBs to be transparent, with reasonable access for media, human rights observers and individual experts to view from the remote DC-area facility. It has proved difficult to gain permission to observe a PRB.

The Pentagon has denied multiple NGOs permission to observe, including NGOs with longstanding work in Guantanamo Bay detainee related issues. Also, the Pentagon has denied access to at least one individual with longstanding work in the areas of wartime detention, international law, and human rights – me!

I have been seeking permission to attend PRBs for many months, submitting significant materials in support of this request. I have been denied permission to observe PRBs multiple times, for multiple unofficial reasons. I await an official letter from the Periodic Review Secretariat (PRS) either expressly granting permission to observe, or expressly denying permission.

Since over 50 detainees have had their “initial review” PRBs, and only a couple are left, the last opportunity to observe an “initial review” will likely be within the next week.

Criteria for approving media and non-media observers for PRBs

The Periodic Review Secretariat lists criteria for selecting PRB observers as follows:

In selecting applicants for observer status, the following criteria will be considered:

  • Reach of the applicant organization or individual (e.g., audience size, readership, subscriptions, circulation, viewers, listeners, website hits, writings, broadcasts, professional standing, diversity of audience, etc.).
  • Nexus of the applicant’s organizational mission to Periodic Review Board proceedings, wartime detention, international law, and/or human rights.  If the applicant is an individual, the nexus of the individual’s writings, commentaries, and/or broadcasts on the same topics may be considered.
  • Extent to which applicant has provided longstanding and frequent coverage of issues relating to Periodic Review Board proceedings, wartime detention, international law and/or human rights.

All groups, organizations and individuals (if not affiliated with a group or organization) will be evaluated under these procedures.  Applicants are asked to provide documentation and examples of how the organization or the individual meets the above criteria.

I have applied for observer status under the various prongs, including the second prong (second bullet point) — the “nexus standard” — which calls upon the Pentagon to consider the following when selecting PRB Observers:


(1)  For organizations, the nexus of the organizational mission to:

(a) Periodic Review Board proceedings;

(b) wartime detention;

(c)  international law; and/or

(d) human rights. 


(2)  For individuals, the nexus of the individual’s writings, commentaries, and/or broadcasts to

(a) Periodic Review Board proceedings;

(b) wartime detention;

(c)  international law; and/or

(d) human rights.


We look forward to learning from the Pentagon whether this standard is met and I will be able to observe PRBs, or whether the standard is not met and I will be officially denied (following multiple other denials). It is particularly important to be able to observe PRBs, not only because of the role they may play in the debate regarding closing Guantanamo Bay, but also because these hearings are very important in discussions regarding rights and interests of all Guantanamo Bay stakeholders.

Who is Rabbani?

Rabbani was born in Saudi Arabia, claims citizenship of Pakistan, and is about 46 or 47 years of age. It is alleged that among other things, he operated safe houses in Karachi, Pakistan that housed high level al Qaeda members, and had links with Osama bin Laden, Khalid Shaik Mohammad, and 11 of the 9/11 hijackers.

Gulam Rabbani

Rabbani’s brother — Gulam Rabbani

He was captured in September 2002 in Pakistan in a raid that netted several others since taken to Guantanamo Bay. He and others were held at various prisons, including in CIA custody (black sites), before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2004.

Rabanni’s brother – Gulam Rabbani – is also being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Is Rabbani a risk?                  

In previous years, through different, non-PRB processes, Rabbani was considered a risk.

For example, 9 June 2008, Rear Admiral DAM. Thomas, Jr (US Navy, Commanding) wrote a memo to the Commander of the US Southern Command, recommending Rabbani’s continued detention. He contended that Rabbani’s risk assessment was as follows (bold & all caps in the original):

“A HIGH risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies”

“A MEDIUM threat from a detention perspective”–

“Of HIGH intelligence value”

The PRB panel is expected to render a decision within a few weeks after the hearing as to whether Rabbani currently poses a significant national security risk to the U.S. A decision is not set to be made until the panel hears directly from the personal representative, and quite possibly from the detainee himself, from witnesses, and from the Government.

The overwhelming majority of each PRB is conducted in secret (closed / classified) proceedings. Most of the PRBs I have reviewed transcripts of list the public sessions as lasting around 19 to 21 minutes on average (again, with that figure being an estimate). The open session would typically consist of the special representative speaking and the detainee making a statement.

Please look forward a future post on the actual Rabbani hearing. Unfortunately, at this point, I will not be able to post based on personal observations in the closed DC-area hearing. I will need to wait until the public transcripts are posted online.

I will be able to gain some insights into the Rabanni proceedings from reading the posts of NGOs and media who have been cleared to attend. Individuals who have witnessed PRBs at DC location have been able to observe the demeanor of the detainee, hear him read his personal statement in his own voice, study his body language, and witness interaction between the detainee and his special representative. Much is missed when one is prohibited from observing PRBs with one’s own eyes in real time.

George Edwards


Detainee Rights at Guantanamo Periodic Review Boards (PRBs)

Guantnaamo Bay - Military Commission Seal

Gitmo trials are handled through the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) —- PRBs are handled through the Periodic Review Secretariat (PRS) —

When many people think of Guantanamo Bay proceedings, they think of the U.S. Military Commissions that are set to try some detainees for war crimes. Not many think about a special type of administrative hearing through which detainees can plead for their release.

These hearings are called Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), and are rooted in an Executive Order issued by President Obama in 2011. In PRBs, detainees are permitted to argue that they do not threaten U.S. national security, and should be released from Guantanamo Bay, with either repatriation to their home countries or resettlement in a 3rd country. More about PRBs can be found here.

Detainee PRB rights

Certain detainees (not all) have rights to up to 3 “types” of PRBs, including an “initial review” (within a year of the Executive Order), a file review (every 6 months after a final determination of an initial review), and a triennial full review (every 3 years). Either the detainee will remain at GTMO following reviews, be transferred to a 3rd country, or be repatriated to his home country. Following are a list of rights to be afforded to detainees at different phases (initial review, file review, triennial review, transfer or repatriation, or remaining at GTMO:

  1. The right to a PRB (“initial review”) within one year of the Executive Order (though the first initial review was conducted 2 years after the 2011 act, with one of the last initial reviews scheduled for July 2016)
  2. The right to advance notice of the PRB, in writing and in a language the detainee understands, of the PRB
  3. The right to attend his PRBs
  4. The right to be assisted in PRB proceedings by a U.S. Government-provided personal representative who possesses the security clearances necessary for access to the information [It appears as though this representative is a “uniformed military officer” – see] [I have not yet attended a PRB, so I do not know whether the representative in fact wears a U.S. military uniform.]
  5. The right to have the Government-provided personal representative advocate on the detainee’s behalf before the PRB
  6. The right to have the Government-provided personal representative challenge the Government’s information and introduce information on behalf of the detainee.
  7. The right to retain private counsel to assist him (though at no expense to the United States)
  8. The right to have the U.S. provide him an unclassified summary of the factors and information the PRB will consider in evaluating whether the detainee meets the Executive Order standard, and this must include a summary of or substitute for classified information that is sufficient to assure a meaningful opportunity for the detainee to participate in PRB. The written summary shall be sufficiently comprehensive to provide adequate notice to the detainee of the reasons for continued detention. If a sufficient unclassified summary of classified information cannot be created, that information may not be considered by the PRB in its determination.
  9. The right to call witnesses who are reasonably available and willing to provide information that is relevant and material.
  10. The right to answer questions posed by the PRB (and presumably the right to refrain from answering questions)
  11. The right to present a written or oral statement for the PRB to consider
  12. The right to an interpreter (and presumably the right to have documents translated into a language he understands)
  13. The right to introduce relevant information, including written declarations
  14. The right to have the government provide mitigating information
  15. The right to have a PRB consisting of representatives of each of the Departments of Defense, State, Justice and Homeland Security; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
  16. The right to the PRB’s prompt determination, by consensus and in writing, as to whether the detainee’s continued detention is warranted under the Executive Order’s standard, in a language the detainee understands, within 30 days of the determination when practicable.
  17. The right to a full review every three years if the initial review is negative
  18. The right to a file review every 6 months if the initial review is negative.
  19. In “lieu of” a right to appeal a determination of the any PRB, the right to 6 month file review and 3 year full review (see above)
  20. If the detainee is determined to be no longer a threat per the Executive Order, the right to have the Secretaries of State and Defense to ensure that vigorous efforts are undertaken to identify a suitable transfer location for any such detainee, outside of the U.S.
  21. The right to have the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, obtain security and humane treatment assurances regarding any detainee to be transferred to another country, and for determining, after consultation with members of the Committee, that it is appropriate to proceed with the transfer.
  22. The right to have the Secretary of State evaluate humane treatment assurances.

For more on PRBs, please click this link.

Lawyers Korolev and Kubal Join Guantanamo Observer Advisory Council

Edwards, Korolev & Kubal Join MCOP Advisory Council

Left to right: Professor Edwards (Gitmo Observer Founder); Mr. Leontiy Korolev; Mr. Matt Kubal. Korolev & Kubal are new members of the Gitmo Observer Advisory Council. Professor Edwards is an ex oficio member. The photo was taken in the International Human Rights Law Academic Center at Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

Two Indiana lawyers, Leontiy Korolev and Matt Kubal, were recently appointed as members of the Advisory Council of the U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP), also known as the Gitmo Observer. The Project, which focuses on U.S. tribunals established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is housed at the Program in International Human Rights Law of Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

Professor George Edwards, who founded the project, said “our Gitmo Observer Advisory Council is a very important part of our overall Project, as it helps us carry out our mandates.”

Regarding the project missions, Professor Edwards said: “Our Military Commission Observation Project’s missions include sending our members to Guantanamo Ba, Cuba (Gitmo) to attend, observe, analyze, critique and report on war crimes tribunals held there. Our Indiana University McKinney School of Law students, faculty, staff and graduates travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and play important roles related to rights and interests of all stakeholders in the process.”

The Advisory Council guides the Gitmo Observer in fulfilling the project’s responsibilities under the Pentagon’s Convening Authority grant of NGO Observation Status for the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Military Commission hearings. The Advisory Council helps manage The Gitmo Observer site and related social media, screens and selects observers for travel to hearings at Guantanamo Bay & Ft. Meade, and develops resources to educate and train selected observers and others.

Professor Edwards, Mr. Korolev, and Mr. Kubal each recently traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to monitor hearings. Edwards and Korolev each also recently traveled to Ft. Meade, Maryland to monitor Guantanamo Bay hearings that were simultaneously video-cast by secure link from the Guantanamo Bay courtroom to the Post Theater at Ft. Meade.

In addition to work related to the Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions, Professor Edwards has also undertaken an examination of the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), through which assessments are made regarding whether specific detainees are subjected to justifiable continued detention when no charges have been or will be filed against them in a U.S. Military Commission.  More about PRBs can be found on the Pentagon’s Periodic Review Secretariat website, and at the Human Rights First website. Professor Edwards’ forthcoming book — The Guantanamo Bay Reader — also examines PRBs, as does the Guantanamo Bay Fair Trial Manual.