Periodic Review Board Hears Case of Alleged bin Laden Bodyguard

Today the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB), the group tasked with determining whether detainees are a continuing threat to the United States or can be released, held a hearing for detainee Abdul Shalabi. Alleged to have been one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards, Shalabi’s PRB detainee profile states that he “probably received both basic and advanced military training” in Afghanistan after joining al Qaeda in the late 1990s.

Shalabi, though, denies any involvement with al Qaeda. The documents released by his personal representative and his private counsel stress that he is “no longer the young man in his twenties who left his home and family in Saudi Arabia and went to Afghanistan.” Instead, he is described as a devoted family man, eager to rejoin his mother, brothers, and sisters and contribute to the family business, and determined to finish university, marry, and start a family. His mother and sisters are apparently already diligently searching for suitable candidates for his future wife.

The PRB profile also stresses Shalabi’s failure to cooperate with the military at Guantanamo, somewhat bizarrely citing his failure to provide useful intelligence as an indication of his noncompliance, as well as hunger strikes and other unspecified offenses. His representatives, though, point out that hunger striking is not illegal and should instead be considered a legitimate form of peaceful protest against his detention conditions. If it were illegal, they state, Shalabi would not have continued.

In May 2008 the Defense Department’s Joint Task Force Guantanamo (the task force in charge of Guantanamo prison operations) rated Shalabi as a high risk detainee. However, these determinations are notoriously unreliable, often based largely on the detainee’s own reporting and that of others at Guantanamo, many of whom have been tortured.

The PRB hearings, on the other hand, are based on the assessments of representatives from six different government agencies, and give the detainee a chance to argue his case. He can also bring in newer, more reliable, or more relevant evidence to whether or not he remains a risk to the United States after all this time in custody. Thus far the PRBs have cleared nine detainees, though the administration has only transferred two of them. Fifty-seven detainees in total have been cleared for transfer and still remain in Guantanamo.

This is the fifth PRB hearing in 2015, but the hearings, which took much too long to get started, are still just barely moving along. These hearings are crucial to the continued transfer of detainees and eventual closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

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Published on April 21, 2015

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