Review Board Assesses Guantanamo Detainee Al-Marwalah
On Thursday the Periodic Review Board (PRB) held a hearing for Bashir Nasir Ali Al-Marwalah, a 36-year-old Guantanamo detainee from Yemen who’s been imprisoned at the U.S. base in Cuba since October 2002. The PRB process was created by Executive Order in March 2011. This interagency review process is meant “to determine whether certain individuals detained at [Guantanamo] represent a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States such that their continued detention is warranted.”
At yesterday’s hearing, the U.S. government claimed that Al-Marwalah had traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 and again in 2001, receiving instruction at an al Qaeda camp and additional militant training. After 9/11, he allegedly “briefly went to the front lines against the Northern Alliance near Bagram, Afghanistan, although he claimed he never saw action.” The government says he was subsequently moved through a series of safehouses in Afghanistan and Pakistan, before being arrested in Karachi, Pakistan in September 2002.
The government noted that Al-Marwalah has been “highly compliant” during his time in Guantanamo and that he has committed no significant disciplinary infractions. He participated in a hunger strike in 2013. However, the government estimates that Al-Marwalah has been less than forthcoming about his history and his knowledge of al Qaeda. The PRB’s opening statement also raised concerns that, if released, he could reconnect with two brothers in Yemen who allegedly “probably are involved with AQAP,” (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).
Al-Marwalah’s military-assigned personal representatives responded that Al-Marwalah is a “serious, thoughtful” man whose background in the medical field would position him to use his education and experience in Yemen or elsewhere if released. They reported that his goals are to continue his education, develop his career, start his own family, and someday reconnect with his family back home. He spends much of his time in Guantanamo studying medical books and journals, helping other detainees with his medical knowledge, and asking questions of medical personnel to improve his training and skills. He has also significantly improved his English.
His private counsel emphasized that Al-Marwalah does not pose a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. He deeply regrets the choices that he made as a young man, and he is ready to build a productive life outside Guantanamo, according to his counsel. He reportedly also has a strong support network. His case file includes statements of support from former colleagues, teachers, friends, and family. His current and former attorneys have stated that they stand ready to offer support to Al-Marwalah wherever he may be transferred.
Today, 80 detainees remain at Guantanamo, 38 of whom are eligible for PRB review. Nine more PRB hearings are scheduled in the coming months. Earlier this year the Obama Administration released a plan to close the detention facility. The plan commits to “accelerating the review of those detainees who have not had an initial PRB review and are neither currently designated for transfer nor charged or convicted by military commission.” The administration should continue to regularly schedule and hold hearings to meet its goal of completing all initial PRBs by the fall of 2016.