Guantanamo Detainee al Alwi Gets a Second Opportunity to Ask for his Transfer

This Thursday 38- or 39-year old Guantanamo detainee Moath Hamza Ahmed al Alwi appeared before the Periodic Review Board (PRB) for the second time since his capture in 2001. Calmly sitting with a cup of Starbucks coffee in front of him, he listened as his personal representative read statements aiming to convince a panel of national security officials he is no longer a threat to the American people and should therefore be released.

Both his personal representative and his private counsel explained his temperament at his initial hearing in September 2015 may have given the review board the wrong impression. At the time, al Alwi was agitated because guard staff initially brought him to the wrong camp for his hearing and there were translation problems once the PRB started. His agitation over these difficulties led the Board to find him “evasive and hostile,” concluding that there was “minimal evidence of a change in [his] mindset.” The Board also determined that there was “insufficient detail regarding [al Alwi’s] plans for the future or efforts to prepare himself for life outside of detention” and that continued “law of war detention” was therefore necessary.

According to the government, al Alwi was an al-Qaida-affiliated fighter who spent time in Osama bin Laden’s security detail and “probably trained in al-Qaida and spent time on the frontlines.” The government conceded, however, that al Alwi “probably was not one of [bin Laden’s] bodyguards,” may not have engaged directly in combat, and “has maintained a more compliant demeanor with the guard force since July 2015.”

Al Alwi previously argued that there is no proof that he participated in any attack and that the United States has been holding him in detention “without charge or accusation of any crime other than that [he] traveled to Afghanistan and stayed at a Taliban guest house.” He tried to justify his involvement with the Taliban by explaining that as a Yemini citizen with no money, life was very hard in Saudi Arabia. He thus turned to the Taliban who treated him “with the utmost respect” and helped him travel out of the country.

As of now al Alwi has been held without charge or trial for nearly 15 years. At the PRB his defense argued that he should be transferred because he is a “peaceful man” who shows no hostility to Americans or others and has developed artistic skills which could be used in a future life outside of detention. While at Guantanamo, al Alwi has crafted furniture and ship models, one of which was photographed and shared by NPR reporter Arun Rath online. An art curator from New York City is working to arrange a showing of his works.

Al Alwi’s defense team also highlighted that he has a “loving” and “supportive” family waiting for him to come home. His family has committed to providing both financial and emotional support to assist him upon his release, no matter where he is sent. Moreover, al Alwi agreed to go through a rehabilitation process and demonstrated a willingness to reverse his prior record of noncompliance by ending his hunger strike and refraining to cause trouble in the camp.

At this stage, whether or not al Alwi will be approved for transfer remains uncertain. The PRB’s decision will likely take the detainee’s positive change in behavior into account but it is difficult to predict if his plans for the future will be deemed sufficient for him to reintegrate into society. In light of the upcoming transition to a Trump Administration, this may be al Alwi’s last chance to be transferred out of Guantanamo under the current PRB system.


Published on November 10, 2016


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