Tenth Gitmo Detainee Reviewed – A Key Step Towards Closing the Prison

Yesterday, more than six years after Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) recommended that Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed al Sawah be transferred out of the infamous detention facility, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) held a hearing to determine if it would clear him for transfer.

Gitmo has been his home since 2002. Though al Sawah has been imprisoned for more than 13 years, he has never been tried or convicted of any crime. He was transferred to U.S. custody by the Northern Alliance in December 2001, having been handed over to them by an Afghan national after al Sawah sought medical help for a cluster bomb injury.

Al Sawah’s health has been an issue for some time. In 2008, he was assessed as “high risk … from a health perspective,” suffering from obesity, diabetes, and spinal cord compression, among other ailments. As Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar noted, his interrogators reportedly plied him with fast food as part of their questioning. This technique seems to have been successful, as al Sawah is considered to be a likely “target for revenge,” owing to his cooperation with the U.S. government and the “invaluable intelligence” he provided. In a document released by the government Wednesday night, al Sawah was assessed as “unlikely to pursue reengagement.”

Al Sawah is the tenth Guantanamo detainee reviewed by the PRB, which President Obama established in a 2011 executive order to review all detainees slated for indefinite detention and to determine whether it “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

At yesterday’s hearing, observers in Arlington, Virginia, watched a live video feed of al Sawah, sitting at a small table and flanked by his Private Counsel, Personal Representative, interpreter, and several other military personnel. Wearing a brown t-shirt and with a sign in front of him saying “DETAINEE,” al Sawah sat quietly, at one point leaning over to his lawyer, who whispered something in his ear. The hearing was completed in just over seven minutes.

Completing the PRB process is a key element to achieving President Obama’s stated goal of closing Gitmo. There are currently 55 detainees awaiting PRB determinations. At the current rate, the hearings will not be completed until 2018. The holdup is reportedly due to a lack of resources—something that could be easily overcome.

Now is the time to speed up the review process. If the Obama administration commits to completing one PRB review per week, it would complete all reviews by the end of 2015 and be well on the way to closing the prison before the president leaves office.

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Published on January 23, 2015

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