Four Years and 14 Hearings—The PRB Limps Along

Today, the Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) held its 14th hearing to determine whether one of the remaining 51 detainees eligible for review could be cleared for transfer.

Mashur Abdallah Muqbil Ahmed al Sabri, a Yemeni national, was brought to Guantanamo in 2002 when he was 24 years old. He has now spent over a third of his life in the detention facility, though he’s never been charged with a crime. He was previously deemed unfit for trial, but the government has never publicly explained why.

As usual, NGO and press observers at a Department of Defense facility in Arlington, Virginia, watched a live feed of the unclassified portions of the hearing, which today, lasted about 45 minutes. This is long for a PRB hearing. The last one I observed lasted all of seven minutes.

Al Sabri, wearing a plain white t-shirt, sat quietly throughout the hearing. A government representative read out al Sabri’s detainee profile, noting that he has been a compliant and cooperative prisoner, “probably did not play a significant role in terrorist operations,” and that “there are no indications he adheres to extremist ideology or intends to reengage.”

His personal representative said that al Sabri “harbors no ill will towards America” and that he “wants to go home and start a life with his family.” His counsel described him as a “shy,” “unassuming,” and “courteous” person. He was deeply affected by his father’s death a year ago and “simply wishes to get on with his life and live in peace.”

In an unusual move, al Sabri’s family submitted a video to the PRB demonstrating how they would support him if he were released. Although a Yemeni national, al Sabri was born and lived in Saudi Arabia until he was 13. He would prefer to to return there, where most of his family is located.

It’s not clear when a final ruling will be made in al Sabri’s case. The last PRB ruling was handed down last month, clearing Bosnian Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed Al Sawah for transfer. Two other detainees who had hearings this year are still awaiting their PRB outcomes.

This Saturday marks the four-year anniversary of President Obama’s executive order creating the PRB process. The president’s order mandated the completion of initial reviews for all eligible detainees by March 7, 2012. Three years after that self-imposed deadline, only 13 detainees have received PRB hearings (one was reviewed twice), with 10 receiving final determinations of their cases.

At the current rate, initial PRB reviews will not be completed until 2020.

At last month’s House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing, Paul Lewis, the Department of Defense’s Special Envoy for closing Guantanamo, said that expediting the PRB process was one of the three main elements of the president’s plan to close the facility. Charles Trumbull, the State Department’s Acting Special Envoy for closing Guantanamo, said that expediting the PRB process was one of two 2015 goals. This talk must be translated into action.

While the administration has shown an uptick in commitment, the PRBs remain under resourced. If Obama truly wants to close Guantanamo by the end of his term, the administration should commit to completing all PRB hearings by the end of 2015, as Human Rights First has called for in our blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo.” Otherwise President Obama’s goal of closing the infamous prison is in serious jeopardy.

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Published on March 3, 2015

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