The Cleared Gitmo Detainees: Tawfiq Nasir Awad Al-Bihani
This is part four of a five-part series on the remaining cleared Guantanamo Bay detainees. Read part one on Ridah Bin Saleh Al-Yazidi, part two on Muieen Adeen Al-Sattar, and part three on Abdul Latif Nasir.
Tawfiq Nasir Awad Al-Bihani is a 44- or 45-year-old Yemeni citizen who has been held at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay since February 6, 2003. He was recommended for transfer on January 22, 2010.
Per a U.S. government assessment, al-Bihani was recruited to join al Qaeda by his older brother Mansur. He travelled to Pakistan where he received training at the al-Faruq Training Camp. Fellow Guantanamo detainee and CIA torture victim Abu Zubaydah reportedly confirmed that al-Bihani fought against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan in late 2001. He fled to Iran in late 2001 or early 2002 and was arrested in Zahedan for being in the country illegally.
Al-Bihani was transferred from Iranian to Afghan custody in March 2002. Per the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s use of torture, al-Bihani was held at Detention Site Cobalt—now understood to be a brutal facility in Afghanistan—and was subjected to 72 hours of sleep deprivation. In December of 2002, he was transferred to U.S. custody at Bagram Control Point.
While there are currently 14 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo, Al-Bihani is the only one who has been approved for transfer thus far. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017, as well as the recently released draft of the fiscal year 2018 NDAA, prohibits transferring detainees to Yemen, citing security concerns. However, over the course of Guantanamo’s history, there have been 115 Yemeni detainees, and 98 of them have been transferred to other countries, including Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. His brother, Ghaleb Nassar al-Bihani, was transferred to Oman on January 16, 2017.
It is unclear why al-Bihani remains imprisoned to this day, over seven years after being selected for “conditional” detention by the Guantanamo Review Task Force. 30 Yemeni detainees were slated for conditional detention solely because of the security situation in Yemen at the time. The Task Force report noted that these detainees were free to be transferred to a third country, or to Yemen if the security situation improved in the future.
While his specific determination remains classified, the decision to categorize his detention as conditional indicates that any prior threat he posed had been mitigated by his years of detention. It is also possible that the reporting his detention was based on was flawed to begin with, as we have noted previously. And while it may not be an option to transfer him to his home country, the U.S. government has demonstrated that Yemeni detainees can be safely transferred to third countries.
Continuing to hold the cleared Guantanamo detainees like al-Bihani is a mistake for the Trump Administration. Not only does it cost over $10 million annually each to hold a detainee at Guantanamo, but Gitmo’s continued existence undermines our national security, as has been noted by numerous national security leaders. The easiest first step on the path to closing the facility is to transfer out the men that have been unanimously determined to no longer be a threat to our country.