Another Alleged bin Laden Bodyguard Gets His Guantanamo Review Hearing
By Alice Debarre
Yesterday the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened for the 29th time to evaluate the continued detention of Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah al-Ansi. The board heard unclassified statements from the government, the detainee’s private counsel, and his personal representatives as to whether al-Ansi represents a “continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
Al-Ansi is a 41-year old Yemeni national, captured by Pakistani authorities in 2001. The U.S. government alleges that he travelled to Afghanistan in 1999 to join al Qaeda and that he became one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards. Al-Ansi, however, has steadfastly denied any involvement with the terrorist organization, claiming to have travelled to Afghanistan to teach Islam. His private counsel points out that the habeas claims they have filed disputing the factual and legal basis for his detention remain unresolved. Al-Ansi has been detained at Guantanamo Bay for over 14 years, without charge or trial.
All parties agreed that al-Ansi has a good record of behavior in detention a strong history of compliance. The government describes him as a low threat to guards, having committed mostly minor and non-physical infractions. Al-Ansi is also perceived as a leader among the moderate detainees, and has assumed the role of mediator between the different groups. Both his personal representatives and his private counsel stress that al-Ansi has taken advantage of all opportunities for education at Guantanamo, taking courses in mathematics, English, Spanish, and health.
He has also become a “prolific artist,” having produced over 200 quality works of art. “They are mostly peaceful landscapes—mountains, oceans, tropical locations, and a few scenes from his homeland. He told me they reflect where he longs to travel. We have included a commendation of achievement for his artwork by the instructor in the prison and a small sampling of his work. This year he made cards for other detainees to send holiday notes and greetings home,“ his counsel explained.
If cleared for release, al-Ansi desires to go to any Arabic-speaking country where he will be treated fairly and given an opportunity to succeed. He wants to further his education, start a family, and find a job. Al-Ansi has a very supportive family, who has pledged to help him financially and to secure him medical and psychological treatment. Some family members are ready to join him for long-term visits if he were not relocated to Yemen. His private counsel also noted that he has the support of the Atlanta Carter Center, a philanthropic organization with significant resources that has already played an active role in another detainee’s repatriation.
According to the government, al-Ansi “probably still harbors sympathy towards extremists.” However, his private counsel insists that she has known and represented him since 2008, spending close to 300 hours with him over the past eight years, and that he has always had respect and admiration for American culture. She mentioned not only his love of National Geographic and the TV show “The Walking Dead,” but also his respect for women. Al-Ansi never had a problem with having a young female attorney, and told her not to bother with head coverings, which his counsel attributes to his more secular and westernized upbringing as the son of a Saudi oil company employee.
Yesterday the Obama Administration released a plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in which it commits to “accelerating the review of those detainees who have not had an initial PRB review and are neither currently designated for transfer nor charged or convicted by military commission,” planning to complete all initial reviews for the 41 eligible detainees by Fall of 2016.
This is a crucial step outlined in Human Rights First’s blueprint “How to Close Guantanamo.” The administration needs to uphold this commitment if President Obama wants to fulfill his campaign promise of shuttering the prison. Furthermore, it needs to arrange for the speedy transfer of the 35 detainees already cleared for release by the PRB.
National security leaders and retired generals have spoken out about the importance of responsibly closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Congress must now work with the administration to make this happen.