After Nearly 12 Years at Gitmo, Detainee Gets His Initial PRB Hearing
By Adelma Jakupovic
The Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened this morning to assess whether continued detention is necessary for Abd Al Salam Al Hilah or whether he is eligible for transfer. The 48-year-old Yemeni national was in Cairo on a business trip when he disappeared in 2002. He claims he was lured there by Foreign Intelligence Services. Al Hilah was transferred to U.S. custody in Guantanamo in 2004.
In his latest intelligence profile, Al Hilah purportedly joined extremist circles at a young age and became a well-known facilitator who used his position within the Yemeni Political Security Organization to provide refuge and logistical support to extremist groups. He allegedly provided false passports to associates of Osama bin Laden, and arranged for the release of imprisoned al Qaeda members. The U.S. government claims that his past activities indicate that he was sympathetic to extremists and driven by a desire for personal and financial gain. Al Hilah has refuted many of these allegations.
Al Hilah has committed a moderate number of infractions during his detention at Gitmo, and according to the government, “appears to calibrate his cooperation with Joint Task Force-Guantanamo personnel to extract his preferred living conditions.” He has provided few insights into his past motivations for supporting terrorists in Yemen, leaving the government uncertain as to whether he remains committed to extremism and would engage in terrorism once he released.
According to his personal representatives, Al Hilah was a respected member of his community, attracting the attention of political parties in Yemen. He joined the General Congress Party, the largest political party in Yemen, where he used his influence to mediate disputes between the government and the tribes and to raise the economic standards of the country. Al Hilah helped bring international companies to Yemen to build bridges, roads, and airports. He was even appointed by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to help manage the deportation of fighters who came to Yemen after defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
His private counsel noted that the letters of support submitted for Al Hilah are a testament to the high esteem in which he is still held in Yemen. Leaders of the country’s national legislature and senior government officials are well aware of his case, and have been fighting for his release for many years. They maintain that he is not a threat to the United States, or to anyone.
As for post-Guantanamo plans, Al Hilah hopes to reunite with his wife and daughter. He also wants to reestablish himself as a businessman and build an import-export business for products sold in Yemen. His private counsel believes he can be successful given that he previously conducted business throughout Europe and speaks English. Al Hilah agreed to submit to rehabilitation and close supervision wherever he is transferred.
The government expressed some concern about his release. It alleges that Al Hilah has been in contact with two extremists outside of Guantanamo, one of whom is his brother and another who is a former Guantanamo detainee suspected of reengaging in terrorism. The government fears that if Al Hilah is released, his extremist connections and the area where his family lives in Yemen would provide him with various avenues to reengage in terrorist activities.
Earlier this year, President Obama laid out a plan to officially close Guantanamo, saying that keeping it open is contrary to our values and undermines our national security, a sentiment that is shared by both national security leaders and retired military generals. The plan will increase the pace of reviewing detainees who have not had an initial PRB hearing and are neither designated for transfer nor charged or convicted by a military commission.
As of this hearing, 80 detainees remain at Guantanamo, 34 of whom are eligible for a review. Eight additional PRB hearings have been scheduled for the next several weeks, and the administration has stated that it will hold all initial hearings by fall 2016. The administration needs to uphold this commitment if President Obama wants to fulfill his campaign promise of shuttering the prison before the end of his final term.