Guantánamo Review Boards (3/3): Salem Bin Kanad, from Riyadh, Refuses to Take Part in a System That Appears Increasingly Flawed

2.5.14

This article, looking at the recent Periodic Review Board for Salem bin Kanad, a prisoner held at Guantánamo since January 20, 2002, is the last of three providing updates about developments in the Periodic Review Boards, a system put in place last year to review the cases of 71 prisoners (out of the 154 men still held), who were designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, or designated for trials that will not now take place. The original recommendations were included in a report that was issued in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama had appointed to review the cases of all the prisoners still held when he took office in January 2009.

The task force recommended 48 men for indefinite detention without charge or trial, on the extremely dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though it was conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — which means, of course, that the so-called “evidence” is no such thing. In March 2011, President Obama responded to the task force’s recommendations by issuing an executive order authorizing their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, although he did promise that the men would receive periodic reviews to establish whether they should still be regarded as a threat.

Disgracefully, the Periodic Review Boards did not begin until last November, after two of the 48 “forever prisoners” had died, and 25 other men had been added to the list of prisoners eligible to take part in them — men who, although recommended for trials, will not now be prosecuted, after appeals court judges overturned two of the only convictions in the military commissions at Guantánamo, on the basis that the war crimes of which the men had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had been invented by Congress. The boards consist of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who meet at an office in Virginia and hear testimony by video link from Guantánamo.

The first PRB, in November, was for Mahmoud al-Mujahid, a Yemeni, and in January the board recommended his release, although, shamefully, all that means is that he joined a list of 75 other Yemenis who were cleared for release by the task force in January 2010, but are still held because of the US authorities’ concerns about the security situation in Yemen. These concerns may be legitimate, but they are completely unacceptable as a basis for denying the release of men approved for release by high-level US government reviews.

In January, a second Yemeni, Abd al-Malik Wahab al-Rahabi, had his case reviewed, although, on March 5, the board recommended his ongoing imprisonment, based on tired old allegations that should not have been deemed credible.

On March 20, a third Yemeni, Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, had his case reviewed, and on April 23 he, like Mahmoud al-Mujahid, was approved for release — joining the other 56 Yemenis waiting for the US to realize that holding men they have publicly said they don’t want to hold is thoroughly disgraceful.

My article about Ali Ahmad al-Razihi was the first of my three updates, and was followed by an article about Ghaleb al-Bihani, another Yemeni and the fourth man to be given a PRB, whose hearing took place on April 8. No decision has yet been taken by the board in al-Bihani’s case.

The PRB for Salem bin Kanad

The hearing for Salem bin Kanad — who is between 37 and 39 years of age, and was initially identified as Salem Ben Kend — took place on April 21, putting his case in the spotlight for the first time in his 12 years in US custody. All that was known about him from the thousands of pages of documents that the Pentagon was obliged to release in 2006 was that he had traveled to Afghanistan to support the Taliban, and had “spent three months on the front line before he and his group was sent north to an area near Konduz [Kunduz] to fight the Northern Alliance,” and that he had then been ordered to surrender, and had ended up imprisoned in Qala-i-Janghi, a fort controlled by the Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum, where he survived a notorious massacre by US, British and Northern Alliance forces. In his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, it was revealed that, in the massacre, he was “shot in the chest and legs.”

Despite having an opportunity to speak to the board on April 21, Salem bin Kanad turned it down. Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, said that he“chose not to participate,” and also that he “elected not to be represented by private counsel.”

As a result, he was only represented by two US military officers — personal representatives assigned to represent prisoners facing PRBs — who painted a compelling portrait of a “peaceful man,” held in Camp Six, where cooperative prisoners are held, who wants only to “return to a normal, productive life” with his family in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, where his father runs an automobile business, and where, it was noted, his relatives “have no identified extremist affiliation.” The personal representatives also stated that he wants to “attend a vocational school to study English and Computer Science,” which, he believes, “along with the sales experience he gained while working in his father’s auto detailing business, will set him up well for a career in sales and marketing.”

The personal representatives also revealed that bin Kanad has two daughters, the youngest of whom was just two months old when her last saw her. His status as a father has not previously emerged in any reports, but his personal representatives made it clear that they are a central concern of his, and that he “wants to urge both daughters to complete their educations.”

What was particularly noteworthy in the personal representatives’ statement was the identification of bin Kanad as a Saudi, as the US authorities have always regarded him as a Yemeni — or, as the unclassified summary explained, he “probably has relatives in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia.” It seems evident from bin Kanad’s own explanation of his circumstances that his wife lives in Yemen, as the representatives explained that he “has repeatedly spoken of his two daughters and desperately wants to bring them home to Riyadh.”

Bin Kanad’s strong Saudi connections should defuse the US authorities’ concerns about him returning to Yemen, as explained in the unclassified summary, in which it was stated, “The robust presence of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in [Kanad’s] home region of Hadramawt probably would encourage his reengagement in extremist activities if he were repatriated to Yemen.”

Furthermore, despite efforts earlier in bin Kanad’s detention to portray him as a prisoner of some significance, it is clear that the authorities have no real reason for wishing to continue holding him. His classified military file contained an allegation, by John Walker Lindh, the US citizen who also survived the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, that bin Kanad was his field commander, but that allegation appears to have become discredited. In the unclassified summary, the US authorities only claimed that he “fought on the frontlines in a Taliban unit commanded by Abu Turab al- Pakistani,” and “possibly served a low-level leadership role replacing Abu Turab when he was wounded.”

The authorities also noted that he “appears to have few associations with at-large extremists, based on his lack of interaction with anyone outside of Guantánamo save for family members,” who, as noted above, “have no identified extremist affiliation.”

As a result, it is, I believe, time for the authorities to send Salem bin Kanad back to his family in Riyadh, so that he can begin the long-overdue process of reconciling himself with his father, and supporting his daughters.

I hope the board agrees, but in the meantime I’m posting below the full text of the statement made by his personal representatives, which I hope you find useful.

Periodic Review Board, April 21, 2014
Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad, ISN 131
Opening Statement of Personal Representative

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the board, we are the Personal Representatives for Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad. To my right/left is our translator, (translator’s call sign). Today, we will be presenting our case without the aid of a private counsel. We’ve met with Salem on multiple occasions and have learned a lot about him and his family. Salem has eagerly worked with us to prepare his case during the Periodic Review Board process, and we are eager to demonstrate to this board that he is a peaceful man. He has put his trust in us as his military personal representatives to guide him through the process and show to you that he should no longer be considered a continued significant threat to the United States.

To accomplish this, we would like to go over some factors for you to consider while deciding Salem’s case. First, Salem has been a consistently compliant detainee. As stated in his UNCLASSIFIED Compendium, “[Salem] has not presented significant force-protection problems while at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.” A testament to his good behavior is the fact that he resides within a facility where only the most compliant detainees are authorized to live. It is the only camp in which the detainees are allowed to live in communal conditions. Residing within this camp means Salem has abided by a lengthy set of rules and guidelines established by the camp administrators. Second, during his detention he has become a trusted leader by his fellow detainees. In fact, his fellow detainees once elected him a block leader and entrusted him with the responsibility of addressing detainee issues with the security force. Third, Salem has taken it upon himself to maintain an exercise regimen that helps him stay physically fit and healthy considering the limiting conditions of the camp. All three of these attributes illustrate that Salem is a man capable of taking care of himself and his fellow detainees all while abiding by camp rules.

A common theme throughout our discussions with Salem has been his strong desire to return to a normal, productive life in Saudi Arabia. He would like to return to his home in Riyadh in order to reunite with his father, brothers and sisters; all of whom have no identified extremist affiliation. Once home, he plans to attend a vocational school to study English and Computer Science. He’s confident those studies, along with the sales experience he gained while working in his father’s auto detailing business, will set him up well for a career in sales and marketing. Most importantly, establishing a stable career will finally allow him to become a supportive father to his two daughters. Salem has repeatedly spoken of his two daughters and desperately wants to bring them home to Riyadh. He has never met his youngest daughter in person as she was only two months old the last time he saw her. He can’t wait to make up for the time lost during her childhood. While providing for their needs he wants to urge both daughters to complete their educations. His youngest daughter is currently in elementary school and, through his regular phone calls, he has urged her to focus on her studies. Salem’s goal for her would be to accomplish something he never did: complete her education through high school. His oldest daughter is currently learning to be a housewife, in accordance with their custom, but has shown great interest in sewing. Salem hopes to enroll her in a vocational school so that she can become a seamstress and pursue a job doing something she loves.

Salem also desires to rekindle his relationship with his father in order to be the loving son he should have been. His father is aging and has sold his business in order to retire. During our conversations with Salem it has been readily apparent that he would like to spend time with his father; making up for the time they lost. As a child, Salem worked for his father and helped with the business that provided a stable income for the entire family. Ultimately, he wants to take the work ethic his father taught him and apply that to his studies and career. He wants to be capable of providing financial support for his father, brothers, sisters and family once he is working.

In order for Salem to achieve his goals he will need the support of his family. In fact, Salem’s family is praying for his transfer and is readily prepared to support him upon his return to Riyadh. His brother has contacted us stating the family is prepared to take Salem in and provide for his every need while he reestablishes himself as a productive member of the community. The Board can review the brother’s statement in Exhibit 2 [not included in the publicly available documents]. The family will provide him a place to live, support him financially, and assist with his enrollment in a vocational school to further his education.

As you review Salem’s case, we would like you to consider the person he is today, his goals of becoming a supportive member of his family, and his desire to reunite with his two daughters and father. We hope the statements provided show you the person we’ve gotten to know, and we believe Salem’s written statement only bolsters our case. Salem is looking towards the future and the man that he wants to be. He wants to be a loving father, a supportive son, an educated man, and a productive working member of his community. He would like to live the rest of his life in peace. We believe the information and documents we’ve provided this Board fully support you finding that he no longer should be considered a continued significant threat to the United States of America.

Note: The next PRB — the sixth — is for Muhammed Abd al-Rahman al-Shamrani (ISN 195), a Saudi, and takes place on May 5.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. This latest PRB received very little coverage, so I’m glad to see that there’s some interest in it. Incidentally, it’s just been reported that Mohammed al-Shimrani, a Saudi whose PRB is on Monday (and will be the 6th PRB to date), “is turning down a chance to appear before a review board to protest what he and other prisoners consider overly intrusive bodily searches,” as the Associated Press described it. Shimrani, who is 39 years old, “says he won’t attend to avoid a search in which guards touch the area near his genitals. He and other prisoners say the searches are offensive and degrading.”
    AP story here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11248871

  2. James DeLalla says...

    Wonderful to see hard work for people with no voice and little sympathy in a world manipulated by bullies. Sorry, I was unable to read all the details of this poor chap’s life. I’m sure he only needs what everyone needs, a peaceful and at least minimally productive society to make something of this life. Best of luck, but at least let him try.
    I care very little about the unfortunate circumstances that made actively fighting (even foreign invaders) for a group as insidious as Al-queda.
    I have even less love for the murderous US forces and their deranged leaders that take great care to create the fertile soil in which these groups can thrive.
    I will repost, retweet and help spread the word that someone is doing something for these (mostly) innocent people and shining a light on another great hypocrisy (and crime) from the all time champs of such behavior.
    The world is outraged at Guatanamo. We should be able to shut it down.
    Thanks,
    J. DeLalla

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, James. Very good to hear from you. Thanks for the supportive words, and I’m delighted to hear that you will be helping to spread the word. I agree, as you say, that “The world is outraged at Guantanamo” and that “We should be able to shut it down.”
    Our next opportunity to make some noise about Guantanamo is on May 23, the 1st anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners fro Guantanamo, which so far has seen just 12 men freed, even though there are another 77 men held who the US has stated it doesn’t want to hold indefinitely or put on trial.
    My initiative the GTMO Clock – via the “Close Guantanamo” campaign that I run – will be marking the anniversary, and there will also be a day of action with events across the US and elsewhere in the world:
    http://gtmoclock.com/
    http://www.witnesstorture.org/blog/2014/04/14/may-23-2014-global-day-of-action-to-close-guantanamo/

  4. arcticredriver says...

    I think these hearings are very important — thanks for covering them.

    The first four PRBs were ones which the captives attended, and the next two the captives skipped. Only 3 of 97 captives attended the last ARB hearings we heard about. So, even if the first four are the only four to attend, then there will be an attendance rate over twice as high.

    It is hard to believe that, even if the PRB clears them for release their release would be very unlikely.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, arcticredriver. The report about the sixth PRB – tomorrow – suggesting that Mohammed al-Shimrani “is turning down a chance to appear before a review board to protest what he and other prisoners consider overly intrusive bodily searches” made me wonder if that was also a concern of Salem bin Kanad’s, which we didn’t hear about, as we know that the invasive body searches have been persuading numerous prisoners to cancel meetings with their attorneys.
    My main fear about the PRBs is that, if prisoners continue to see their fellow prisoners cleared but not released, they will conclude that the system is a sham, like all the other review processes. It seems to me that it is imperative that the Yemenis cleared for release need to be freed without further delay, and that this should be the focus of campaigning.

  6. arcticredriver says...

    They seem to have picked up the pace at which the reviews are being scheduled. Some OARDEC reviews seem to have lasted less than an hour, even including the classified portion. These reviews seem to be lasting hours. Two of the PRs said they spent something like 50 hours meeting with the their captives, whereas some OARDEC PRs seem to have gotten away with passing off spending only a few minutes with the captives, and without even bothering to open their files.

    Spending more time is good. Unfortunately, what is really required, what a serious dedication to public safety requires, is a total, skeptical, forensic re-examination of every claim, every statement, in the men’s files. Sadly, while the individual judges of the US District Courts, charged with reviewing the captives’ habeas status, were bringing some much needed skepticism to their reviews, by 2010 or 2011 they had been rebuked by the very aggressive and conservative panels of appeals judges — who I guess are their superiors. The appeals judges in a very foolhardy and very dangerous move told the District Court judges to treat every official claim with “regularity” — that is assume it was true, apply no skepticism to it, not look to see if the classified documentation listed an actual source for the the claim, to make a judgement as to how credible the claim was.

    Of course what the record seems to show is that the source for many of the damaging allegations has been lost. We saw that with the Murat Kurnaz case when his classified file was accidentally published. Very dangerously, unsourced claims were regarded as reliable.

    And, the big bee in my bonnet. Because the Guantanamo staff continued to shuffle the captives around “off the books”, after authorization for “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation had been withdrawn, it was routine for the guards who came to collect a captive for his interrogation to deliver the wrong guy. So, no one can trust that the captive who gave inconsistent or incriminating answers during an interrogation was actually the individual who was supposed to have been in that interrogation chamber?

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver, for that powerful synopsis of the review processes at Guantanamo – the CSRTs and ARBs, the habeas petitions and now the PRBs. Like you, I wanted a “total, skeptical, forensic re-examination of every claim, every statement, in the men’s files,” but it hasn’t happened, of course. It was something I began with my detailed analysis of the files released by WikiLeaks in 2011-12, but unfortunately I haven’t found the funding to enable me to continue with that project – or fund a way to provide the kind of forensic analyses that the men facing PRBs deserve.

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