Another GTMO Detainee Opts Out of the Review Process
By Alexa Potter
Last week, I attended a Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing for Suhayl Abdul Anam Al Sharabi, a 42-year-old Yemeni national who has been held at Guantanamo for sixteen years. Al Sharabi and his private counsel refused to attend the hearing, leaving only Al Sharabi’s U.S. government-appointed personal representative to appear before the Board. The hearing lasted less than four minutes.
The PRB is tasked with assessing whether Guantanamo detainees like Al Sharabi can be released or transferred to a third country without posing a significant threat to the United States. The U.S. government accuses Al Sharabi of having various connections to al Qaeda, claiming that he trained as a militant in Afghanistan before 9/11, served a bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden, and was connected to an aborted 9/11-style hijacking plot in Southeast Asia. The government further claims that Al Sharabi has made anti-U.S. statements and was noncompliant during his detention until the end of his hunger strike in November 2014. The government nonetheless noted that Al Sharabi has no known ongoing connections to terrorism.
Al Sharabi’s absence last week was a reversal. During his first hearing before the Board in March 2016, his personal representative stated that he was “very cooperative and receptive to meet with [the personal representatives]” and that he was anxious to get to know them and to tell his story. Al Sharabi said he was saddened about the attacks in his homeland and that innocent people are caught up in such terrible strife. He also said he was willing to take part in a rehabilitation program. The Board, however, was skeptical of his intentions and decided that his continued law-of-war detention remained necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.
Since this initial decision, the Board has issued identical statements based on unchanging evidence. It was due to the apparent stagnation in the government’s case that Al Sharabi and his private counsel refused to be present at the hearing Tuesday morning. His personal representative informed the Board that he has declined seven meeting attempts over the last six months. Though his private counsel did not present a new statement for the Board, he wanted the Board to know that he still supports Al Sharabi in his bid for release/repatriation.
Al Sharabi is one of a growing number of Guantanamo detainees who have refused to participate further in the PRB process due to the futility of the hearings and the lack of new information regarding their alleged terrorism ties. None of the detainees reviewed by the PRBs under this administration have been cleared for transfer, and five who were cleared for release during the Obama administration are still being held at Guantanamo. A positive determination from the PRB is clearly no guarantee of release. The Trump administration has also dismantled the government offices that helped coordinate cleared detainees’ transfers to third countries, throwing another roadblock into the path out of Guantanamo.
Unlike Presidents Bush and Obama, who said the detention facility should be closed, President Trump touts it. He recently raised the prospect of sending captured ISIS fighters to the detention facility. Doing so would be a policy, human rights, and national security disaster.
The president should instead work to transfer any detainees whom the PRB has cleared for release and demonstrate that it is providing a meaningful opportunity for detainees to have their files—and their continued detention—reviewed. If he doesn’t, more and more detainees will refuse to participate, making the PRB process even less effective.