GTMO Detainee’s Lawyer: Review Process is Unlikely to Lead to Transfer
By Daniel Bergmann
The Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened again this Tuesday to hold a hearing on whether detainee Haroon al-Afghani could be cleared for transfer. Al-Afghani has been detained at Guantanamo for over 10 years yet has never been charged with a crime.
PRB determinations must be unanimous. Representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all must agree that the detainee does not pose a “continuing and significant threat to the United States.”
Rather than adopt the more retrospective approach of fellow detainee Abd al-Salam al-Hilah—who during his PRB hearing last week disputed the government’s case and defended his actions—al-Afghani and his attorney spoke mostly of the future and his desire to be reunited with his family. This hope, however, was tempered by a strong skepticism of the PRB process under the Trump Administration.
Al-Afghani’s attorney pointed out that the PRB has not cleared a single detainee since President Trump took office. She went on to cite reports that the State Department has stopped reaching out to receiving countries to lay the groundwork for transfers.
Given such troubling developments, al-Afghani’s attorney said that it had become clear that even if the PRB decided to change course and clear her client for transfer, the administration has no intention of complying with the board’s recommendation. This, argued his attorney, was all the more concerning given that al-Afghani had been arrested far from any battlefield for his alleged association with an organization that is now at peace with the Afghan government.
Even under President Obama, PRB clearance didn’t guarantee transfer. Five detainees who have been cleared—three by an Obama-era detention task force in 2010 and two by PRBs in 2016—remain in custody at Guantanamo Bay.
A lack of transparency also continues to be a problem. Until last week, the Periodic Review Secretariat (PRS) website typically posted unclassified opening statements from the detainee’s attorney and personal representative prior to hearings, providing the media, NGOs, and the public with access to important information. But now, continuing the troubling trend we reported on last week, the PRS website published only a short three-line summary of the government’s case against al-Afghani before this ostensibly public hearing.
It is unclear if al-Afghani’s attorney’s statement will ever be published.