The Guantanamo PRB Hearing for One of the “Karachi Six”
By Alice Debarre
Yesterday morning the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) held its 28th hearing. It met to decide whether Ayub Murshid Ali Salih will join the ranks of the 34 Gitmo detainees already cleared for release. Senior officials from six different government agencies reviewed Salih’s background, his behavior in detention, and his future aspirations to determine whether he presents a “continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
Unfortunately, due to connectivity issues, observers were unable to watch the grainy live feed of the unclassified portion of the hearing.
Ayub Murshid Ali Salih, a 37-year-old Yemeni national, has been detained at Guantanamo for over 13 years without charge or trial. He is being held as a so-called “unprivileged enemy belligerent”—an alleged member of the Taliban or al Qaeda. According to the government’s detainee profile, however, Salih was only “a low ranking militant.”
At the age of 21, Salih travelled to Afghanistan for the alleged purpose of helping other people by “calling them to Islam.” The Pakistani police captured him during a raid on a suspected al Qaeda house in Karachi in 2002. After a short period in CIA custody and several days of detention at Bagram Airbase, he was transferred to Guantanamo in October 2002.
Information in the recently released Senate report on CIA torture suggests that the CIA may have subjected Salih to “enhanced” interrogation techniques. CIA records refer to the detainee’s “lack of sleep,” although it is unclear whether CIA interrogators forced sleep deprivation, a technique used to destroy detainees’ capacity for psychological resistance.
Salih was arrested with five other Yemenis, a group the U.S. government later labeled the “Karachi Six” based on concerns that they were part of an al Qaeda operational cell intended to support a future attack in Karachi. The government now admits that it is more likely that they were elements of a larger pool of fighters al Qaeda would potentially use to support future terrorist operations. Although the government states that Salih “probably did not play a major role in terrorist operations,” it believes he received military training at an al Qaeda camp and probably still retains extremist views.
The government emphasizes Salih’s poor compliance record at Guantanamo, but notes that his behavior has improved since 2013. His personal representatives stress that Salih admits to his past transgressions but now has a new outlook on life. Furthermore, they claim that he has not expressed any ill will or anger about his detention, and has denounced terrorist acts and organizations that claim to base those acts on religion.
As for post-detention plans, Salih wants to find a wife and start a family in a society that is accepting of diverse cultures and different religions. He hopes to use his experience as a shopkeeper in his family’s store and study business administration in college. His family is able and willing to provide the financial assistance he may need.
The government has some concern about his negative views of the Yemeni government and the Houthis, suggesting Salih may create ties with extremist groups in Yemen. It also mentions the difficulties of adequately monitoring him were he to return to his hometown. In any case, the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibits the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. Furthermore, Salih is willing to be transferred to any country the United States deems suitable.
With the end of his term approaching and his campaign promise to close the detention facility at Guantanamo still unfulfilled, President Obama needs to ensure that the 42 other eligible detainees rapidly have their detention reviewed by a PRB. Given the restrictive Guantanamo provisions in the 2016 NDAA, increasing both the pace of these PRB hearings and the transfers of the 34 cleared detainees may be the president’s last and only shot at shuttering the facility.
See Human Rights First’s blueprint “How to Close Guantanamo” for a detailed outline of how the administration can close Guantanamo before President Obama leaves office.