Yemeni National Pleads his Case for Release from Gitmo
By Camille Marrero
Yesterday the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) held a hearing to evaluate whether continued law of war detention remains necessary for detainee Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj. A 43-year-old Yemeni national, Sharqawi arrived at Guantanamo in September 2004.
The U.S. government argued that Sharqawi is a career jihadist who acted as a prominent financial and travel facilitator for al Qaeda members before and after the 9/11 attacks. It alleged Sharqawi probably provided logistic and financial support to al Qaeda operations, although acknowledged it was unclear if Sharqawi knew details of the operations themselves. Sharqawi allegedly developed ties to senior al Qaeda leaders and associated with plotters and operatives, including those involved in the USS Cole bombing and 9/11. The government believes that Sharqawi still supports extremist causes and likely continues to view America as his enemy.
Sharqawi denies being a member of al Qaeda, arguing instead, that the group trusted him because of his facilitation support. During his first PRB hearing, back in March 2016, Sharqawi’s personal representative claimed that Sharqawi does not support extremist organizations and that he believes that acts of war and aggression are against the will of God.
On April 14, 2016, the PRB concluded that Sharqawi should remain in detention to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. It based its determination on Sharqawi’s lack of participation in the hearing, his ties to senior al Qaeda leaders, his statements and behavior while in detention, and the difficulty in assessing his current mindset and credibility.
The PRB also conducted a file review on November 1, 2016. It ordered a full review of Sharqawi’s file based on new information which raised a significant question over the need to continue his detention.
In today’s hearing, Sharqawi’s private counsel argued that Sharqawi’s current mindset should not be evaluated based on statements that he made during interrogations in Bagram and Guantánamo in 2004. The D.C. District Court reportedly struck these statements because they were obtained through physical and psychological coercion. Instead, Sharqawi’s private counsel urged the PRB to base its assessment on Sharqawi’s present views and conduct in addition to his future intentions.
In a personal statement to the PRB, Sharqawi claimed that he is no longer driven by the impulses and views that led to his detention. His experience in Gitmo allowed him to interact with Americans and allegedly transformed his views. Sharqawi said he is preparing for life after Guantanamo by taking classes and learning English. The hardship he experienced for the past 15 years has made him reject any involvement in conflict.
If cleared for release, Sharqawi will join five other detainees that have been approved for release from Gitmo and are awaiting transfer. The Trump Administration has not spoken about the future of the PRB process, which was created by President Obama in 2011 and codified under Section 1023 of the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2012. The reviews conducted by officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Departments of Justice, Defense, State and Homeland Security, offer a solid check that has significantly lowered the possibility of former Guantánamo detainees “reengaging” in terrorist activities. We advise President Trump to keep the PRB process running.