Moving Forward: PRB Conducts Last Initial Hearing of Gitmo Detainees

By Elizabeth Topolosky

Today the Periodic Review Board (PRB) fulfilled one of the goals listed in the Plan to Close Guantanamo Bay that the Department of Defense released in February: to complete all initial reviews by the fall of 2016.

During today’s hearing an inter-agency panel of judges listened as opposing counsel argued over the future of Guantanamo’s youngest detainee, 31-year-old Hassan bin Attash.

Captured alongside accused 9/11 conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh in 2002 at the age of 17, Hassan bin Attash stands accused of working as an explosives specialist and operation facilitator for al Qaeda, swearing a personal oath, or bay’ah, to Osama bin Laden, and serving as bin Laden’s personal bodyguard.  According to the government, bin Attash “grew up immersed in violent extremist ideology, coming from a family closely related with Usama bin Laden.” Walid bin Attash, another Guantanamo detainee currently on trial for war crimes, is Hassan bin Attash’s older brother.

Bin Attash has requested transfer to a rehabilitation center in Saudi Arabia, where he hopes to attend college, marry, and work as a translator. Government representatives expressed concern over this request, as such an arrangement would place bin Attash in close proximity to his parents and siblings, who are still alleged to “support violent extremism.”

Firing back, bin Attash’s private counsel claimed, “Hassan has a strong sense of right and wrong. Now a young man, with a mind of his own, he is no longer under the sway of others and can make independent decisions.” “I consider him a friend,” he continued, “If circumstances allowed, I would have him as a guest in my home.”

Both bin Attash’s private counsel and state-provided personal representative pointed to bin Attash’s record of compliance with Guantanamo staff since 2013, fervent consumption of American media, and enrollment in the institution’s educational programs as indicators that the young man does not hold a grudge against the United States. At the end of the fall, the young man who entered Gitmo with only an elementary school education hopes to earn a U.S. high school GED.

Government representatives emphasized that bin Attash’s compliance was a recent shift in behavior, in their opinion likely resulting from a desire to “increase his chances for release.” Until August 2013 bin Attash had been “non-compliant and hostile” towards the guard staff. Furthermore, the government claimed, bin Attash has indicated that he believes westerners are his enemies and that he intends to reengage with extremist groups after his release. He is also alleged to have reached out to several terrorists still at large, including some former Guantanamo detainees.

Although not mentioned by either side during the PRB proceedings, Hassan bin Attash has accused the United States of torture. In a 2011 indictment filed on behalf of four Guantanamo detainees by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ), bin Attash claimed that U.S. agents subjected him to beatings, sensory overload and deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation, and solitary confinement. Bin Attash, who the Senate intelligence committee’s report on torture does not list as a recipient of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” maintains that the torture occurred at a “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.

Human Rights First strongly applauds the Obama Administration’s commitment to keeping its promise to complete all initial PRB reviews by the end of the fall, but cautions that further action is still needed to ensure the closure of the Guantanamo Bay facility. This includes ensuring that the PRB continues to provide regular hearings to detainees initially denied clearance.

Since its establishment in 2002, the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities have cost the American people over 5.6 billion dollars. Guantanamo has proved expensive in other ways, undercutting America’s international peace and security efforts by serving as a propaganda tool for extremist groups. With near unanimous agreement from our nation’s top military, intelligence, and law enforcement leaders that Guantanamo should be closed, and safe, cost-efficient alternatives to indefinite detention programs, it is time as a nation to move forward and relegate Gitmo to the history books.

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Published on September 8, 2016

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