The Last Two Yemenis Mistakenly Identified as Members of Al-Qaeda Cell Seek Release from Guantánamo via Periodic Review Board

7.7.16

Yemeni Musa'ab al-Madhwani, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, two more Periodic Review Boards took place at Guantánamo, bringing to 51 the number of prisoners whose ongoing imprisonment has been reviewed by the US government since the PRBs were set up in 2013 (the 52nd took place today, and I’ll be writing about that soon). To date, 24 of those men have been recommended for release, 12 have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and 16 others are awaiting decisions. 12 other men are still awaiting reviews. For further information, see the definitive Periodic Review Board list that I wrote for the Close Guantánamo website.

Last week’s reviews were for the last two of six men seized in Karachi, Pakistan on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — the same day as alleged 9/11 conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh. They were then sent to be tortured in a “black site” in Afghanistan, and were subsequently identified by the US authorities as members of an Al-Qaeda cell in Karachi. In the first of the PRBs for the six, in February, for Ayoub Ali Saleh, it was revealed that the authorities have since walked back from their claims, conceding that “it is more likely the six Yemenis were among a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations.”

Saleh was recommended for release in March, and a second man, Bashir al-Marwalah, was approved for release in May, after a review in April. Decisions have not yet been taken in the cases of the other two — Said Salih Said Nashir, reviewed in April, and Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, reviewed in May, but it is reasonable to expect that, unless the men in question are unwilling or unable to demonstrate contrition, and a desire to resume peaceful lives, they will all be recommended for release.

In the cases of the two men reviewed last week, I would be surprised if the board members failed to recommend their release, as both have been well-behaved prisoners in Guantánamo, and appear to have no connection to or enthusiasm for anyone involved in terrorism.

Musa’ab al-Madhwani’s Periodic Review Board

The clearest case of release is the first of the two, Musa’ab al-Madhwani, a Yemeni who is 35 or 36 years old, and who is the only one of the six to have had his habeas corpus petition considered by a US judge, back in December 2009. On that occasion, Judge Thomas Hogan reluctantly rejected the petition, although clearly with some regret.

As I explained in an article in October 2010:

[W]hen Judge Thomas F. Hogan denied his petition, he said that, although the government had “met its burden” in establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that al-Madhwani was connected to al-Qaeda, he “did not think Madhwani was dangerous.” Noting that he had been a “model prisoner” since his arrival at Guantánamo in October 2002, he explained, “There is nothing in the record now that he poses any greater threat than those detainees who have already been released.” Moreover, Judge Hogan refused to rely on any statements that al-Madhwani had made to interrogators at Guantánamo, ruling that they were “tainted by abusive interrogation techniques,” to which he was subjected in the weeks after his capture in the “Dark Prison,” although he did accept statements that al-Madhwani made during his Administrative Review Board at Guantánamo in 2005, which, he said, were not tainted because they were made years after the abuse took place. Al-Madhwani’s lawyers had argued that these statements should also have been excluded, because they were “contaminated because he was still worried about upsetting his captors,” but the judge refused to accept this argument, even though one of his attorneys, Darold W. Killmer, explained, “He was threatened that if he changed his story, he would be sent back to a place worse than at the ‘Dark Prison.’”

In that article in October 2010, I also ran through his explanation of how he came to be captured, which revealed that he had never engaged in anything resembling terrorism, and had only spent a little time at a training camp in Afghanistan:

According to al-Madhwani’s own account, he arrived in Afghanistan in August 2001, and trained briefly at al-Farouq [the main camp for Arabs in Afghanistan prior to 9/11], until it closed immediately after the attacks. After spending a few months in guest houses in Afghanistan, he made his way to Pakistan via Khost, traveling with other Arabs, Pakistanis and Afghans, and then, after trying unsuccessfully to return home via Iran, where, he said, he was “beaten and questioned” before being refused entry, spent ten months being moved around various houses in Lahore, Quetta and Karachi, waiting for an opportunity to return home that never came. Moreover, when he explained the situation in Karachi at the time of his arrest, an even less militant picture emerged. “The group I was arrested with were staying in two apartments,” he said. “One person from each apartment refused to surrender and fought the Pakistani forces sent to arrest us. I was in the group that chose to surrender.” He added that the Pakistanis were “thankful for our cooperation and surrendering without fighting.” He then explained that there were seven men in his apartment, including one who was killed, who had only been there for about five days, and that two other men shared the other apartment with a family.

I also wrote about his allegations of torture:

In his [Administrative] Review Board [a review process that began in 2005], he spoke only briefly about the “Dark Prison,” but it was easy to understand why Judge Hogan, who also spoke to him by video-link from Guantánamo, concluded that his “allegations about abusive interrogations were credible,” and, noticeably, added that they “were not challenged by government lawyers.” In 2005, when a Board Member asked him, “Are you holding anything back from the interrogators?” he replied, “That is impossible, because before I came to the prison in Guantánamo Bay I was in another prison in Afghanistan, under the ground [and] it was very dark, total dark, under torturing and without sleep. It was impossible that I could get out of there alive. I was really beaten and tortured.”

In the unclassified summary for al-Madhwani’s PRB, the US authorities seemed to accept that he is of no significance. He is described as “a low-level Yemeni militant who traveled to Afghanistan in mid-2001 and received basic training at an al-Qa’ida camp before 9/11,” and who subsequently “fled to Pakistan in late 2001 following the onset of Coalition operations and met with senior al-Qa’ida figures who tried to arrange his return to Yemen.” After dismissing past allegations that he was “part of an al-Qa’ida operational cell intended to support a future attack in Karachi,” and that he was now seen as having been “among a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations,” the authors of the summary stated, as al-Madhwani has always maintained, that he “was probably awaiting a chance to return to Yemen at the al-Qa’ida Karachi safe house when he was arrested.”

Turning to Guantánamo, the authorities noted that al-Madhwani “has been highly compliant with the guard force at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility since his arrival in October 2002, according to Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), committing a low number of infractions compared to other detainees.”

Regarding intelligence, the authorities stated that, “early in his detention, [he] provided information of modest value about his activities and al-Qa’ida operatives and leaders,” although they added that he “has never admitted to an ideological affiliation with al-Qa’ida,” which makes it “difficult to assess his motivations for traveling to Afghanistan.” Importantly, however, “[w]hile in detention, [he] has denounced extremism and not expressed any anti-American sentiment.”

The authorities also noted that he “does not appear to have any direct associations with at-large extremists,” adding that he “has received one letter from a former detainee suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities, but did not respond.” I must add that every time correspondence with former prisoners is mentioned in PRB summaries, I find it disturbing, as there is no way that what a former prisoner does should reflect in any meaningful way on those still held.

The summary concluded by stating that al-Madhwani “probably would prefer to be transferred to Yemen, to be close to his family, and his family appears to be financially stable and are willing to support [him] and find him employment,” although that will not happen, of course, because the entire US establishment in unwilling to repatriate any Yemenis from Guantánamo because of the security situation, and, if he is recommended for release, a third country must be found that is prepared to offer him a new home. The final notes are about his future, with the authorities stating that he has “said he wanted to have a family of his own” and to “become a farmer or an accountant.”

Below I’m cross-posting the opening statements made by his personal representative (US personnel appointed to help the prisoners prepare for their PRBs) and by one of his civilian lawyers. His representative uncovered one of the concerns expressed by the authorities in their unclassified summary — namely, what had motivated him to go to Afghanistan — by stating that his trip “was sold to him as a tremendous charity opportunity filled with adventure,” but that it turned out to be completely different — he found, instead, “a highly suspicious organization that confiscated his passport and tickets upon arrival.”

The representative also noted how al-Madhwani has “never held extremist views or any desire to harm Americans,” and how, “[a]s a result, it is no surprise he has been highly compliant as a detainee and very respectful with detention staff,” adding ‘During his entire time at Guantánamo, Musab has denounced extremism and only desires release to his family.”

His lawyer, Patricia Bronte, a civil rights attorney in Chicago, who has known him for nearly ten years, agreed, painting a portrait of a young man known for “his candor, generosity, and sense of humor,” who “is no longer the shy, gullible youth whom two men convinced to run away from home and go to Afghanistan.” She described his close-knit and supportive family, and noted his dedication to furthering his education at Guantánamo, to prepare for a working life on his release. She also noted how he has “never held extremist views or any desire to harm Americans.”

Periodic Review Board, 28 June 2016
Musab Omar Ali Al-Mudwani, ISN 839
Personal Representative Statement

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the board. I am the Personal Representative for ISN 839. Thank you for the opportunity to present the case for Musab Omar Ali Al-Mudwani.

At a very young age, Musab was recruited in Yemen to support the movement in Afghanistan. The trip was sold to him as a tremendous charity opportunity filled with adventure. Additionally, Musab perceived it to carry very little commitment as he already had a return plane ticket for the following month. However, when he arrived in Afghanistan he discovered vastly different expectations and a highly suspicious organization that confiscated his passport and tickets upon arrival. New recruit movements were very restricted and the oppression forced him and others to avoid asking questions.

Musab quickly realized his mistake, but changing his situation became extremely difficult. He desperately wished to return home, but the situation was growing precarious. Finally, coalition attacks presented the opportunity to flee back to Yemen, but this proved to be very difficult as well and he never made it.

Musab never held extremist views or any desire to harm Americans. As a result, it is no surprise he has been highly compliant as a detainee and very respectful with detention staff. During his entire time at Guantánamo, Musab has denounced extremism and only desires release to his family. Although his parents are gone, he intends to make up for the pain he has caused his brothers and sister through leading an entirely peaceful life. Musab’s brothers have pledged to support him financially as long as necessary. However, his plan is to find a wife and have children to which he intends to support as an accountant. He has pursued life skills training to help him attain this career and has produced many practice accountant documents in preparation for the future (included in the submissions).

I am confident Musab is honest in his intentions after Guantánamo because of his peaceful and compliant past. His time at Guantánamo has greatly expanded his perspective on the world and helped him develop more sound judgment. I firmly believe he does not represent a continued significant threat to the United States of America or its allies. Finally,he has skills to support himself in a peaceful existence.

Musab is open to transfer to any country, but would prefer an Arab speaking nation where he can more easily pursue a career and start a family. I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.

Periodic Review Board, 28 June 2016
Musab Omar Ali Al-Mudwani, ISN 839
Personal Counsel Statement

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board, thank you for the opportunity to present this statement in support of my client, Musa’ab al Madhwani, ISN 839. I know Musa’ab well, and I am proud to represent him before this Board. I first met Musa’ab in January 2007. He remains the honest, polite, fine young man I met almost a decade ago. Shortly after our first meeting, rumors began to circulate around the camp that the detainees might no longer be able to meet with their lawyers. Musa’ ab wrote me a beautiful letter saying:

If the government severs communications between us, and we are not able to ever meet, I want to say to you: Thank you for standing by me in this ordeal of mine … I will never forget compassionate Patricia who gave me hope and made me realize that there is still goodness in this nation.

In the decade since that letter, I have met and spoken with Musa’ab scores of times. Musa’ab has never lost his appreciation for the goodness of America and Americans.

Musa’ab has always been truthful, even when the truth is inconvenient or unflattering. From our first meeting, Musa’ab told me (with considerable embarrassment) how two men persuaded him to run away from home and travel to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001. He also told me about the many months he spent as a refugee, travelling through Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran in search of a way to get home to Yemen. In 2009, I sat down and mapped out his travels, including the length of time Musa’ab said he stayed in each place. I consulted independent documentation that Musa’ab could not have seen or known about. Somewhat to my surprise, I was able to confirm Musa’ab’s account of his travels, right down to the day.

Musa’ab has always been more interested in helping other people than in dwelling on his own problems. I remember being nervous about telling Musa’ab of a setback in his habeas case. But Musa’ab took the setback in stride and then spent the rest of our meeting comforting me. Recently, Musa’ab heard about some problems in my family. He wrote me a long letter to cheer me up, then apologized that his circumstances prevented him from giving me more than just moral support.

Many aspects of Musa’ab’s character have remained constant throughout the decade I have known him, including his candor, generosity, and sense of humor. But some things have changed — dramatically and for the better. Musa’ab is no longer the shy, gullible youth whom two men convinced to run away from home and go to Afghanistan. After hearing Musa’ab testify over the course of two days in 2009, federal Judge Thomas Hogan agreed with the government’s internal assessment of Musa’ab as a young, na’ive, unemployed Yemeni who posed no danger to the United States:

The record reflects that [Musa’ab] was, at best, a low-level al-Qaida figure. It does not appear he even finished his weapons training. There is no evidence that he fired a weapon in battle or was on the front lines. There is also no evidence that he planned, participated in, or knew of any terrorist plots. Classified documents in the record confirm the Court’s assessment. As does the fact that he appears to have been a model prisoner during his seven years of detention. The Court fails to see how, based on the record, [Musa’ab] poses any greater threat than the dozens o f detainees who recently have been transferred or cleared for transfer. (Anam v. Obama, 696 F. Supp. 2d I, 16 (D.D.C. 2010)).

I have watched Musa’ab grow from a naive, gullible youth into a confident, independent man. Musa’ab once was afraid of being alone in the dark, but now he reaches out to calm his brothers’ fears and resolve their disputes. Instead of being a follower, swayed by peer pressure and the strong personalities around him, Musa’ab now thinks and acts independently, according to his own core beliefs.

Musa’ab has also taken advantage of the opportunities available to him here to prepare himself for life outside of Guantánamo. Before leaving home, Musa’ab gained some business experience by helping out in his father’s pharmacies. Here, Musa’ab has built on that experience by learning about computers and studying accounting and business skills with another detainee who has significant business training and experience. Musa’ab has applied himself diligently to these studies, and he asked me to bring him a book on how to use the Excel computer program. These accounting and general business skills will assist Musa’ab in finding employment and making the transition to civilian life.

Over the years I have spoken by phone with Musa’ab’s family. This loving and supportive family has long since forgiven Musa’ab for his youthful error in running away from home. Unfortunately, both of Musa’ab’s parents died while he has been at Guantánamo. The family remains close, and Musa’ab’s sister and brothers have maintained contact with Musa’ab through letters and phone calls. Musa’ab’s siblings have made detailed plans to support him in the event the Board decides he can be released or transferred. They understand that if allowed to leave, he will likely be going to a country other than Yemen. Fortunately, the family has the resources to support Musa’ab in his transition to civilian life, to provide him a job and home and marriage prospects, and to travel to be with Musa’ab, regardless of where he is transferred. I should note that neither I nor Musa’ab’s other lawyers ever requested or received information in 2014 from Musa’ab’s family regarding their financial circumstances. The first time we asked for that information was this year, in preparation for this hearing. The family is eager to give Musa’ab the emotional and financial support he will need in transitioning from detention to peaceful family life. Musa’ab’s four siblings and his brother-in-aw have submitted statements in support of Musa’ab’s case, as have my co-counsel Darold Killmer and Mari Newman, who met personally with Musa’ab’ s family in Yemen.

Darold, Mari, and I are also eager to provide support and assistance to Musa’ab, whether he is transferred to Yemen or some other country. If l could, I would invite Musa’ab to come and live with my family. Since that is not possible, l hope to do the next best thing and visit him wherever he is living. We have all promised to attend Musa’ab’s wedding, regardless of where it takes place. The human rights group Reprieve has significant experience in helping detainees transition to civilian life, and Reprieve has offered to share its advice, contacts, best practices, and other resources to help us provide support to Musa’ab if he is transferred to a country other than his homeland. We are committed to supporting his transition to a peaceful and productive life outside of Guantánamo. I would be happy to answer any questions the Board may have.

Hayil al-Maythali’s Periodic Review Board

Yemeni Hayil al-Maythali, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The second prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board last week was Hayil al-Maythali aka Hail al-Maythali or Hayil al-Mithali (ISN 840), a 38- or 39-year old Yemeni.

As I explained in an article in October 2010:

In Guantánamo, al-Maythali stated that he went to Afghanistan in November 2000 to “fight in the jihad,” and admitted ferrying supplies on the back lines near Kabul, but he added that he was only on the front lines for a week because he had no military experience. He denied allegations that he trained at al-Farouq, and explained that these allegations had only arisen because of his torture in the “Dark Prison,” where, he said, “there was very bad torture conducted on people,” including himself, which was “so bad that he knew by making up and agreeing to the training it would stop the torture.” He added that “his testicles were disfigured to the point where they cannot be repaired.” Like Ayoub Saleh, Shawki Balzuhair and Musa’ab al-Madhwani, he was only captured after returning to Pakistan following an abortive attempt to return home via Iran.

In the unclassified summary for his PRB, the US authorities were rather more forceful about his role, suggesting that he was “an extremist fighter who associated with senior al-Qa’ida members” — although it was also noted that he “probably did not play a major role in the attack plotting in Karachi.”

The authorities added, “During 2000 and 2001, he trained with al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan,” and “provided support to frontline fighters against the Northern Alliance.” It was also claimed that he “probably acted briefly as a guard at Usama bin Ladin’s compound in Kandahar,” and “also may have been a bodyguard to Bin Ladin,” although this latter is a very dubious allegation, made by Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (ISN 1457), a Yemeni who is still held, and whose statements were disregarded by a judge back in 2010 because of the torture to which he was subjected.

Al-Maythali’s summary also dismissed previous claims about the “Karachi Six,” noting that, “[b]ased on a review of all available reporting, we judge that this label more accurately reflects the common circumstances of their arrest and that it is more likely the six Yemenis were elements of a large pool of Yemeni fighters that senior al-Qa’ida planners considered potentially available to support future operations.” As with Musa’ab al-Madhwani, the authorities added that al-Maythali “was probably awaiting a chance to return to Yemen when he was arrested at the Karachi safehouse.”

At Guantánamo, it was noted, al-Maythali “has been mostly compliant with the guard force and committed a low number of infractions relative to other detainees.” On intelligence, it was added that he ”has provided little information of value after his initial interviews,” and, as interpreted by the authorities, “has probably sought to conceal his past involvement in terrorist activities,” although that may be nothing more than wishful thinking. It was also noted that he “acts as a spokesperson for the other detainees on his cell block and has provided interrogators with information about camp dynamics and other detainees’ noncompliance,” cooperation, as I see it, that might help with a recommendation for his release.

The authorities added that he “probably retains anti-American views and probably is at least sympathetic toward extremist groups, although he has been guarded in conveying his views on extremism and violence,” although both these claims are quite vague, as is clear for the related use of the word “probably.”

It was also noted that he “has demonstrated conservative Islamic beliefs and would probably prefer to be transferred to a Muslim country, particularly Yemen or Saudi Arabia, if released,” and also that “has maintained contact with his family, most of whom reside in Sanaa,” Yemen’s capital. However, if his release was to be recommended, a third country would need to be found, because of the ongoing ban on repatriating any Yemenis. This may be helpful because, although those compiling the summary assessed that he |has no close associations with terrorists outside of Guantánamo,” the added that “he and his family possibly know members of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who would be well-placed to help [him] reengage in terrorism if he returned to Yemen.” It was also noted that he “also probably has a close relationship with Maha El-Samnah, the mother of a former Guantánamo detainee,” although I failed to see how a relationship with a former prisoner’s mother is supposed to indicate any sort of danger.

Below I’m cross-posting the opening statements made by his personal representative and his attorney, Jennifer Cowan. The representative spoke of how he is “always extremely polite and cooperative,” and “has grown substantially as a person” during his imprisonment, dedicating himself to learning and recognizing the mistakes he made in his past. Cowan spoke candidly about how his “detention has been difficult for him and he has been angry about his treatment at Guantánamo,” but how, with the passage of time, “he regrets the choices that he made before he was captured and detained at Guantánamo, and has become “more mature, open-minded, self-reflective and focused on the future.” She also spoke about his closeness to his family, the care he has shown towards his fellow prisoners, and his desire to find productive work if released.

Periodic Review Board, 30 June 2016
Hail Aziz Ahmed Al-Maythali, ISN 840
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. I am the Personal Representative for ISN 840. I will be assisting Mr. Hayil Aziz Ahmed al-Mithali with his PRB this morning.

Hayil has attended all of our meetings and is always extremely polite and cooperative. Every time I see him he is smiling and he never hesitates to answer any question I may have. While here at GTMO, he has learned English from other detainees as well as carpentry and cooking and he has grown substantially as a person. He recognizes that he made bad decisions in the past and he has no interest in repeating these mistakes. Hayil realizes that it was a mistake to go someplace else and fight for a cause that was not his. He does not blame America for his current situation, he blames himself for his actions.

His family is more than ready and willing, and is quite capable of, providing whatever support is needed for Hayil. They have already given him a share in their marketing and advertising business and hope that with his English skills he can help them with importing Goods from China.

He is interested in working in trade if he is transferred, but he would also like to continue his education, as he feels education is very important. When discussing the qualities he prefers in a wife, he lists “educated” at the top, even before “beautiful.” Hayil has encouraged all of his siblings in their education, including his older sister. Even though it is traditional for the female to drop out of school when she is married, he insisted that his sister continue her education, for which she is very grateful.

He would prefer an Arabic speaking country, but does not mind going to any country. It would just take a little longer to integrate, but he is more than willing to put in every effort to succeed. He also welcomes any kind of rehabilitation or reintegration program that might be available.

Based upon my time with Hayil and the support of both his family and his Personal Counsel, I believe that he is sincere in his desire to lead a peaceful life and obtain an honest job and he has the support and dedication that will make this possible. I honestly do not believe that Hayil represents a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States of America.

Thank you for your time and attention. I am happy to answer any questions you may have throughout these proceedings.

Opening Statement of Jennifer R. Cowan
Private Counsel for Hail Aziz Ahmed Al-Maythali (ISN 840)

Good morning. I am Jennifer Cowan of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, counsel for Hayil al-Mithali. For the past eleven years, I have represented Hayil and have gotten to know him well through numerous conversations and meetings. I strongly believe that Hayil’s detention is not necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security oft he United States and I urge the PRB to approve him for transfer.

Hayil was young when he came to Guantanamo and I will be candid in recognizing that at times, Hayil’s detention has been difficult for him and he has been angry about his treatment at Guantánamo. But I think that with many years to consider his actions, he regrets the choices that he made before he was captured and detained at Guantánamo. In addition, during the past eleven years, and especially in recent years,I have witnessed him become more mature, open-minded, self-reflective and focused on the future.

I would like to give you one example of a way in which Hayil has matured during his time at Guantánamo. When I first met Hayil, he was very uncomfortable with the idea of a female lawyer representing him and very uncomfortable, generally, with the idea of speaking to a woman who was not a member of his family. In those first years, at his request, I covered my hair during our meetings and we would not shake hands. I would sit toward the back of the meeting room while a male interpreter and my male colleagues sat at the table. Hayil would not speak directly to me and instead, spoke only to the men in the room.

Overtime,these limitations disappeared. When I meet with Hayil now, I do not cover my hair. We shake hands warmly, and we sit at the table together and engage in direct conversation, now partially without interpretation, due to his remarkable progress in learning English. Our conversations cover many topics — Hayil is smart and curious and is interested in hearing my perspective on issues and interested in better understanding the views of others.

On many occasions, Hayil and I have talked about his hopes for his life after he is released from Guantánamo. Those hopes will be familiar to many people. Most of all, he wants to marry and start a family of his own. As you can see from the letters of support written for the PRB, Hayil is very close with his parents, his siblings, and his nieces and nephews. He misses them terribly and he worries about them, and he looks forward to seeing them and speaking with them during videoconferences. On many occasions, he has expressed to me his regret at not being part of their lives because of his detention at Guantánamo, especially as his siblings and nieces and nephews grow up and he has expressed his regret that he has not had children of his own who could grow up with their cousins. Hayil very much wants to make up for lost time as quickly as possible and to become a father. He frequently asks about my children and what new experiences they have had, and at each meeting, Hayil reiterates his invitation for me and my family to attend his wedding, whenever and wherever that may be.

Hayil is clear-eyed about the work that he will need to do if he is released from Guantánamo. He has taken advantage of the educational opportunities available to detainees at Guantánamo but recognizes that he will need to complete additional training and/or education in order to have the skills necessary to support himself and his family, and he also understands that he may need to learn a new language. He is fully committed to taking the necessary steps and doing the work to create a new life for himself. He is open to any type of training and any type of job, but he is particularly interested in running a small business because his family has a small business in Yemen and they can provide guidance for that endeavor.

As you can see from the letters submitted to the PRB, Hayil’s family will support him in every way possible if he is released from Guantanamo. lf he were to return to Yemen, he would be provided with a home and partial ownership of his family’s business. However, Hayil’s family recognizes that even if he is released from Guantánamo, he is unlikely to be transferred to Yemen and therefore, they are prepared to support him wherever he settles, to assist him in finding a wife, and to help prepare him to start a job or a business so that he can support his family. I am also personally committed to providing whatever assistance I can to help Hayil establish himself if he is released from Guantánamo, though the nature of that support will depend in large part on the country to which he is transferred.

In their letters to the PRB, members of Hayil’s family and community provide examples of specific instances in which Hayil provided assistance and support to them. These stories are consistent with my knowledge of Hayil’s activities at Guantánamo. In my conversations with him, Hayil has always expressed concern and been protective of other detainees at Guantánamo. One of my other clients here was seriously ill and when they were housed together, Hayil would assist him in negotiating life at Guantánamo and when they were not housed together, Hayil would regularly ask me about how my client was feeling and ask me to convey his concern and best wishes. I understand that Hayil has also taken a similar interest in and provided assistance to other detainees who needed his help and on occasion, has acted as liaison between detainees and the guards in the detention facility.

I am confident that if Hayil is released from Guantánamo, he will use his intelligence and focus, his determination and fortitude, and his caring and thoughtfulness to create a new life for himself and become a productive and well-integrated member of whatever community he settles in. I urge the PRB to clear Hayil for release so that he can take the lessons he has learned at Guantánamo and use them to start a new chapter in his life.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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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12 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the Periodic Review Boards last week for two Yemenis still held at ‪Guantanamo‬, part of an alleged Al-Qaeda cell, the “Karachi Six,” that the US authorities now admit never existed. I hope to see both men – Musa’ab al-Madhwani and Hayil al-Maythali – recommended for release, like 24 others (two-thirds of those in whose cases decisions have been taken). Obama has just 196 days left to close Guantanamo, where 79 men are still held, including 14 of the men approved for release by PRBs and 15 others approved for release by Obama’s 2010 task force.

  2. Martin says...

    Musab definitely has a great chance of being approved for transfer. He’s well behaved, remorseful and has renounced violence. Hail can go either way. As for letters, I’m not surprised their mail is monitored. They are in a prison after all.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, agreed re: Musa’ab, Martin. It was a great shame that the judge had to turn down his habeas petition back in December 2009.
    As for letters, I’m not surprised at all that they’re monitored, but it’s not appropriate to include the receipt of letters as indicative of anything in intelligence assessments.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. The Periodic Review Boards are a very important part of the story of Guantanamo, 14 years on, and I’m appreciate of everyone who takes an interest.

  5. Martin says...

    Great news. Omar Yuldayev is FREE AT LAST! And Mohammed Ghanim has been approved for transfer. Thank goodness. In regards to Hayil, I doubt he would contact Omar Khadr’s mother. Her husband is dead (killed in Pakistan in 2003) so they are no longer in the terrorist business.

  6. Martin says...

    Hopefully Mohammed Bwazir will be freed by next year. It’s a shame he didn’t accept the offer to be transferred to Europe.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I’ve been catching up with the news, Martin. Article about the releases to follow soon.
    I too hope that a new arrangement can be worked out for Bawazir. It was very sad that he felt too scared to leave.

  8. Martin says...

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Martin. You beat me to it again. Article to follow in the next few days.

  10. Martin says...

    No problem, friend. Here’s more good news. The last Moroccan has been approved for transfer and will be released soon. No surprise there. He had a credible plan for the future. The board is still struggling with Barhoumi, Jabran Qahtani, and Mohamedou Slahi.

    http://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN244/20160711_U_ISN244_FINAL_DETERMINATION_PUBLIC.pdf

  11. Martin says...

    Clearly, the 2010 task force overestimated the threat posed by the “indefinite detainees”. I don’t fault them for recommending prosecution against other detainees. At least they were accused of something. And it seems that the PRB agrees for the most part. It’s likely that only at most 5 out of the remaining 21 recommended for prosecution will be approved for transfer, (Slahi, Zahir, Mingazov, Jabran Qahtani, and Barhoumi) if they show candor, remorse and a credible plan for the future though I think Slahi, and Zahir have the best chance since Slahi has shown remorse and Zahir is no longer accused of throwing a grenade at civilians. Jabran and Barhoumi are accused of being bomb makers so I understand why the PRB is struggling to decide their fate.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I arrived home to that news on Twitter, Martin. I’m glad. I thought he came across very well in his PRB.
    I certainly think the “too dangerous to release” category will be looked back on by historians of Guantanamo as a major miscalculation, although we shall have to see to what extent the prosecution category work out in the end. I’d say that, actually, some of those initially recommended for prosecution have demonstrated the kind of problems that were supposed to have applied to the “forever prisoners,” but that so often didn’t stand up under scrutiny; namely, a bad attitude and anti-American sentiment. Whether, in the long run, that is sufficient for them to be held for another 10 or 20 years remains to be seen, though I suspect not. I really do hope that ways can be found for some to be put on trial, and for others to be prosecuted in other countries, or, as Obama had proposed, be allowed to make plea deals by video-conference, and then be imprisoned in other countries. I’d really like to see indefinite detention without charge or trial brought to an end.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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