Guantanamo Periodic Review Board Weighs Transfer Status of Yemeni Detainee
The Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened yesterday morning for a hearing on the transfer status of Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammed Rabei’i, a Yemeni detainee accused of membership in al Qaeda and participation in hostilities against coalition forces in Afghanistan. PRB hearings determine whether detainees pose sufficient threat to U.S. national security to remain in custody, or if they can be cleared for release and transfer.
The board failed its original goal to complete hearings for all eligible detainees by 2012. So far it has held hearings for only 17 out of 53 eligible detainees since the board began operating.
Rabei’i arrived at the prison in May 2002 after his capture by Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan and subsequent transfer to U.S. custody. The government accuses him of receiving basic and “possibly” advanced extremist training, and of being present at Osama bin Laden’s Tora Bora mountain complex where he “possibly” fought coalition forces until his capture in December 2001.
The government alleges that Rabei’i continues to sympathize with extremists, harbors strong anti-U.S. sentiments, and “possibly aspires to reengage in terrorist activities.” Since several of Rabei’i’s family members are believed to be involved in extremist activities, the government fears that he would have an easy path to reengagement if released. The government deduced his supposed extremist sympathies from his perceived lack of cooperation in interviews as well as statements he made while in custody.
In contrast, Rabei’i’s private counsel and military-appointed personal representatives emphasized that Rabei’i is simply shy and quiet, but bears no ill will towards the United States and wishes only to move on with his life by starting a family of his own and caring for his ailing mother. In light of the extremely strict transfer restrictions lurking in both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016, Rabei’i’s private counsel also stressed his client’s willingness to accept a transfer to any location the United States deems acceptable—even outside of his native Yemen—before that door is essentially closed to him.
So far this year the PRB has scheduled 11 hearings, slightly exceeding 2014’s number. While this is encouraging, 52 cleared detainees are still being held in limbo at the prison, some of whom were approved for transfer under the Bush Administration.
Given the threat of more onerous transfer restrictions imposed by Congress, President Obama must work twice as hard to fulfill the promise he made more than six years ago by expediting the remaining PRB hearings and transferring cleared detainees. Gitmo continues to be a dark spot in American history, embodied by the dozens of detainees who still languish at the prison. Rabei’i himself has been held at in there without charge for 13 years.
At the current rate, the remaining hearings won’t be completed until 2020. Even more problematically, the transfer of cleared detainees has no timeline to speak of.