On September 8, Guantánamo prisoner Hassan bin Attash, born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents, who appears to have been just 17 years old when he was seized in a house raid in Pakistan and sent to Jordan to be tortured, became the last of 64 prisoners to face a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release by an earlier review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force) and were not facing trials (just ten of the 61 men still held), the PRBs have played an important role in reducing the prison’s population in President Obama’s last year in office.
Consisting 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, the PRBs function like parole boards, assessing prisoners’ contrition, and plans for the future that will mitigate any concerns about them engaging in terrorism or military activity against the US after their release.
To date, 33 men have been approved for release by the PRBs (and 20 of those men have been freed), while 19 others have had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld — although all are entitled to further reviews at which they and their attorneys can submit further information in an effort to change the board’s opinion. Purely administrative file reviews take place every six months, and, every three years, prisoners are entitled to full reviews, although in reality those that have taken place — for four men, who all ended up with recommendations for their release — have occurred sooner (between ten months and two years after their initial PRBs). See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details.
12 prisoners — including Hassan bin Attash — are awaiting the results of their reviews, but it is clear, from the 52 decisions already taken, that the PRBs are, in large part, addressing significant, and unwarranted caution on the part of the 2009 task force, which described 41 of the 64 men as “too dangerous to release.” The 23 others facing PRBs were recommended for prosecution by the task force, but were moved into the PRB system when the basis for prosecutions — in Guantánamo’s military commissions — largely collapsed after appeals court decisions in 2012 and 2013, in which some of the few convictions secured were overturned because the judges assessed, correctly, that the war crimes in question were not internationally recognized and had been invented by Congress.
Bin Attash is one of those initially recommended for prosecution, and, based purely on a statistical analysis, that makes him less likely to be recommended for release, because just six out of 15 of those initially recommended for prosecution have been approved for release, compared to 27 out of 37 of those initially described as “too dangerous to release.”
One aspect his story that ought to make a difference is his age. In his classified military file dated June 25, 2008 (released by WikiLeaks in 2011), his year of birth is given as 1985, meaning that he was just 17 when he was seized, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in Karachi, Pakistan. However, the US authorities now claim — cynically, I believe — that he was born in 1982.
The difference ought to count for something, as imprisoned juveniles (those under 18 when their alleged crimes took place) are supposed to be rehabilitated rather than punished, and kept separate from adult prisoners, according to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which the US is signatory, and which came into force the year bin Attash was seized. The Optional Protocol stipulates that juvenile prisoners “require special protection,” and specifically recognizes “the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities”, requiring its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”
Unfortunately, in the “war on terror,” the US has thoroughly disregarded its obligations regarding children in armed conflict. Of the 23 confirmed juveniles at Guantánamo, just three — all Afghan children — were, briefly, held separately from the general prison population before their release in 2004 — although, as the psychologist and journalist Jeffrey Kaye has pointed out, they were not treated appropriately. Col. Larry James, a psychologist, interrogated them for two hours every morning, a betrayal of the principles of the Optional Protocol that is not excused by James’ claims that the boys provided “useful intelligence.”
Moreover, by refusing to acknowledge Hassan bin Attash’s real age, the US has been able to demonize him without inconvenient criticism. Seized with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, he is the brother of another alleged 9/11 co-conspirator, Walid bin Attash, and is regarded by the US as “a facilitator and explosives expert for al-Qa’ida,” but even if he were over 18, his treatment would have been unacceptable. Sent to the notorious “dark prison” in Afghanistan for a week after his capture, he was then rendered to Jordan, where he was held for 16 months, and where, he has said, he was severely tortured while being interrogated about the activities of his brother. On January 7, 2004, he was rendered back to US custody in Afghanistan, and he was transferred to Guantánamo exactly 12 years ago, on September 20, 2004, with nine other “medium-value detainees,” most of whom are still held.
In their unclassified summary for his PRB, in which he was described as “a facilitator and explosives expert for al-Qa’ida in the early 2000s,” the US authorities also stated that he “grew up immersed in violent extremist ideology, coming from a family closely associated with Usama bin Ladin [sic].” He was, additionally, described as “an aid [sic] to several senior al-Qa’ida members, helping run safe houses, facilitate the movement of fighters, and complete errands,” who “also supported numerous plots against US and other Western targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, [and] North Africa.” It was also alleged that he “was skilled in bombmaking and contributed to al-Qa’ida’s explosives activities and capabilities.”
How much truth there is to all of the above is difficult to discern, but there is certainly a problem with the claim that his “extremist activity began in 1997, when he pledged allegiance to Usama bin Ladin,” because he was just 12 years old at the time. Nevertheless, according to the summary, he “participated in basic and advanced military and explosives training probably including poisons training,” and “briefly supporters the frontline” and even “served as a bodyguard for bin Ladin.” Even if true, of course, the allegations above refer to the activities of a teenager, who, it is worth remembering, should not be held accountable for his actions.
In 2000, when he would have been 15, the summary alleges that “he relocated to Pakistan to facilitate logistics and travel for al-Qa’ida, which he continued doing intermittently for about two years.” He also, allegedly, ”facilitated al-Qa’ida external operations against US and other Western targets, and was himself selected to participate in two such planned attacks.” In 2002, the summary continued, he “built, procured, and delivered explosives for al-Qa’ida in support of anti-coalition attacks in Afghanistan.”
Turning to his behavior in Guantánamo, the summary noted that, “until 2013, [he] was non-compliant and hostile with the guard staff,” but that, “[i]n August 2013, he became highly compliant.” It was assessed that he did so because it was “likely to improve his chances of release.” The summary added, however, that “he continues too harbor an extremist mindset and has made statements which indicate that he believes westerners are his enemies and that he remains intent on reengaging after detention.” Noticeably, as will be discussed in further detail below, his attorney, David Remes, disagrees with this assessment, explaining, in his submission to the board, “I have never heard him deprecate the American people or American values, or express extremist views.”
The US authorities’ summary also claimed that bin Attash “has associated or corresponded with several at-large terrorists including former Guantánamo detainees,” a claim that is both disconcerting and difficult to comprehend; disconcerting, because the authorities have been making assessments about people with whom he has corresponded based on assumptions about those people that may not ave any relevance to bin Attash’s association with them; and difficult to comprehend, because I cannot understand how he can be described as “associating” with anyone, given that he has been imprisoned for the last 14 years.
The summary’s final paragraph dealt with life after Guantánamo, should bin Attash be released. Those compiling the summary note that he “has expressed a desire to participate in Saudi Arabia’s extremist rehabilitation program, rejoin family, marry, and start a family of his own.” It was also noted, however, that his family, in Jeddah, “is unlikely to help him transition to a peaceful life because they support violent extremism and because they lack the financial resources to provide significant aid to him beyond housing him.” In conclusion, the summary noted that he “probably could leverage family ties and terrorist contacts should he decide to reengage in terrorist activity after his transfer.”
In terms of securing a recommendation for release, of course, prisoners must be able to demonstrate that they have plans in place for a peaceful and constructive life, and from the above it seems clear that this is one requirement that bin Attash will fail to fulfill. It is impossible to know whether bin Attash’s own responses by video link with the board members persuaded them that he shows contrition, but the summary of evidence suggests that they will have difficulty overcoming the gravity of the allegations against him. All that has been reported of his participation was via Courthouse News, which noted that he “could be seen in the video wearing a plain white T-shirt with a short beard, sifting quietly through papers as the hearing proceeded.”
Below, I’m cross-posting the opening statements made by bin Attash’s personal representatives (military personnel appointed to represent the prisoners in their PRBs), who noted how he has tried to improve himself at Guantánamo, and “has been very open to learning western culture and the English language,” and his attorney, David Remes, who, as noted above, made a case for his client not bearing any ill-will against the US, and also pointed out how much he has grown as a person while at Guantánamo. In an email exchange, he told me, “Hassan’s hearing went smoothly. I’m hopeful they’ll approve him for transfer. He wants to go home and get on with his life.”
Periodic Review Board [Initial Hearing], 08 Sep 2016
Hassan Muhammad Ali Bin Attash, ISN 1456
Personal Representative Statement
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the board. We are the Personal Representatives for ISN 1456. Thank you for the opportunity to present Mr. Hassan Muhammad Ali Bin Attash’s case. Mr. Hassan has continued to participate in the process and has been very understanding with the constant date changes by his PRs and his PC.
From our first encounter and all subsequent hearings, Hassan has been very engaged, fervent, and understanding in preparation of his Periodic Review Board. From the onset, Hassan has demonstrated an optimistic outlook towards life after Guantánamo Bay. He is currently working on his U.S. High School GED with a goal of completing it this fall. He s fluent in English, Arabic, Pashtu, and speaks some Urdu and Persian. Upon his transfer from Guantánamo, he has a strong desire to attend college and work as a translator in order to provide for himself and for a future spouse. Since 2013, Hassan has been very compliant with few disciplinary infractions. As a block leader, he was commended by the Office in Charge for solving daily routine issues within the camp.
Hassan arrived at Guantánamo at a very young age. During this time, he has been very open to learning western culture and the English language. Most of all, he is interested in furthering his education and has demonstrated a willingness to absorb new ideas no matter which culture it may be. During his time in Guantánamo, he has attended Art, English, Computer, Life Skills, and History classes.
Hassan would prefer to return to Saudi Arabia where his parents and siblings are located. He is more than willing to participate in the Saudi Arabia rehabilitation program but is also open to transfer to any country that is willing to accept him where security measures can be met. Since nearly half of the Saudi Arabian working population is foreign born, Hassan believes his language skills along with his strong desire to meet new people from diverse backgrounds will serve him well in a linguist/translator career. He would like to become certified in this career field in order to obtain work and provide for his future family.
Thank you for your time and attention. We are pleased to answer any questions you may have throughout this proceeding.
Periodic Review Board, 08 Sep 2016
Hassan Muhammad Ali Bin Attash, ISN 1456
Private Counsel Statement
Good morning. I am David Remes, private counsel for Hassan bin Attash (ISN 1456). a Yemeni national born in Saudi Arabia. I have represented Hassan in his habeas corpus case for eleven years this August. I have seen him countless times and believe that I know him well.
Hassan is the youngest Guantánamo detainee. he left home when he was about thirteen, was captured in September 2002, when he was about seventeen, and was brought to Guantánamo in December 2004, when he was about nineteen. Hassan is now about thirty-one. He has spent his entire adult life in Guantánamo. I have watched him grew into adulthood. At all times, I found him to be more sensible and level-headed than many others his age.
Hassan is engaging. He has a quick wit and reads people well. I make a point of seeing him on every visit. He is very friendly, and I consider him a friend. If circumstances allowed, I would have him as a guest in my home. Hassan also has a strong sense of right and wrong. Now a young man, with a mind of his own, he is no longer under the sway of others and can make independent decisions. I have never heard him deprecate the American people or American values, or express extremist views.
Hassan arrived at Guantánamo with only an elementary school education. He did not know English when I first met him; now he is fluent, and his English is unaccented. His goal of becoming an Arabic-English translator is certainly realistic. Hassan has a thirst for knowledge generally and has taken advantage of al available educational opportunities here. He has an insatiable appetite for news abut current events. When the prison still made such publications as the New York Times and the Washington Post available to detainees, Hassan devoured them. He assiduously watches English-language news channels. Closely following Guantánamo-related developments in Washington, he has developed a sophisticated understanding of the way our political system works, and the vagaries of American politics.
I hope the Board concludes, as I have, that Hassan is no threat to the security of the United States. He should be transferred to the reintegration center in Saudi Arabia and prepared for a new life in the outside world. The Board should approve him for transfer.
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).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s my latest article, looking at the Periodic Review Board for Hassan bin Attash, a Yemeni at Guantanamo who was just 17 when he was seized in Pakistan and sent for torture in Jordan (the US claims he was 20). He is the last of 64 prisoners facing PRBs, and to date 33 of those reviewed have been approved for release – an indictment of the previous review process in 2009 that found them “too dangerous to release” or, like bin Attash, recommended them for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions collapsed in the courts.
I’m so glad you keep doing this work, Andy. I do wish to correct one assertion in this article. You wrote, “Of the 23 confirmed juveniles at Guantánamo, just three — all Afghan children — were, briefly, held separately and treated humanely before their release in 2004.”
I wasn’t able to access the video link from the article. It’s not available in the U.S. But the three Afghan children were not really treated humanely. Perhaps it was less terrible for them compared to others at Guantanamo, nut humane? I wrote up their story some years ago in an article at Truthout: “Guantanamo Psychologist Led Rendition and Imprisonment of Afghan Boys, Complaint Charges” (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/598:guantanamo-psychologist-led-rendition-and-imprisonment-of-afghan-boys-complaint-charges)
The following is from that article:
According to a report published a Guardian UK article, two of the boys were caught while US forces were “looking for a local commander, Mansoor Rahman Saiful, who had fought against the Taliban for years, but joined the radical Islamists when America attacked Afghanistan.”
Naqibullah, age 13, “a local imam’s son, said he stumbled into the raid while cycling from a friend’s house,” and was interrogated daily about his knowledge of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
“I told them, ‘I don’t know these people and I am too young to give anything to anyone without my father’s authority.'” After two weeks, Naqibullah said, he was asked whether he had any objection to being taken to “another place.”
“I said, ‘What can I do? You will take me wherever you want to.’ That night, bound, blindfolded and fitted into orange overalls, he was loaded on to a cargo plane and flown non-stop to Cuba. Naqibullah’s first 10 days in Guantanamo were the worst of his life, he said.”
According to a March 2004 story by The New York Times, another child prisoner, Asadullah, age 12 or 13, believed to be the youngest of the prisoners, said he was interrogated daily for several months while held in Afghanistan. The beatings he endured in the first five days of his captivity still bothered him when he arrived in Guantanamo.
As with Naqibullah, the third child prisoner, Mohammed Ismail Agha, age 13, told a foreign journalist, as reported in The Washington Post in February 2004, that he had been arrested because a friend with whom he was looking for work was supposedly identified as a Taliban. He spent a month and a half at Bagram before being “warned that if he did not confess he would be sent to a terrible and distant place called Guantanamo.”
Agha was subjected to sleep deprivation and stress positions during his time at Bagram in an effort to get him to make a confession.
“It was a very bad place. Whenever I started to fall asleep, they would kick on my door and yell at me to wake up,” he said. “When they were trying to get me to confess, they made me stand partway, with my knees bent, for one or two hours. Sometimes I couldn’t bear it any more and I fell down, but they made me stand that way some more.”
Agha’s story of his rendition is similar to that of Naqibullah. He was “put on a plane with other prisoners, chained by the wrists and ankles, with a hood placed over his head.”
“It was hard to breathe,” he said.
Supervising the transport back to Guantanamo on the large C-17 transport plane, complete with medical team, military police and Air Force Special Forces shooters, was Col. Larry James. The former chief psychologist never states whether he reported the treatment received by these child prisoners at Bagram to any authority.
“I Prayed to God, I Asked, ‘Where Is My Son?'”
While James and the Guantanamo authorities apparently did try to make the boys’ treatment much improved over that of prisoners in the rest of the camp, including at least eight or nine other teens held at roughly the same time, the young prisoners were not entirely grateful.
According to the Guardian report, “The boys played football every day and sometimes basketball and volleyball with their guards.” But Asadullah told his interviewer, “I was very sad because I missed my family so much…. I was always asking, ‘When can I go home? What day? What month?’ They said, ‘You’ll go home soon,’ but they never said when.”
According to a February 2004 story in the UK Telegraph, Ismail Agha (who is reported as 15 in this article) said, “At first I was unhappy … For two or three days [after I arrived in Cuba] I was confused but later the Americans were so nice to me. They gave me good food with fruit and water for ablutions and prayer.”
The boys lived in shared bedrooms and appear to have been treated humanely by their guards. According to James’ account, they were assigned a Navy child psychologist, Dr. Tim Dugan. They attended school classes. A pediatrician provided “thorough medical care.”
James states that he attended the interrogations of the boys every day from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM, which he said provided “useful intelligence.”
Meanwhile, the children had not seen or heard from their families for many months. They complained of homesickness. Though one paper quoted Agha as praising the soldiers who watched over him, he was critical of US authorities for not notifying his parents for ten months of his incarceration, even though he says he gave the Red Cross letters from the first months of his incarceration. “They stole 14 months of my life and my family’s life. I was entirely innocent: just a poor boy looking for work,” Agha said.
The families by most accounts were desperate to find out what happened to their children. No US authority or the Red Cross informed them about the fate of their sons for many months. James never raises the issue of the boys’ parents in his book.
According to the Post article, Nayatullah, “an illiterate farmer of about 60,” traveled to work sites throughout his area, asking if anyone had seen his son. No one had. “Finally I thought he must be dead,” Agha’s father said.
Asadullah’s mother spoke through a translator to a Guardian UK correspondent about how she suffered not knowing her son’s fate. She cried “every night thinking about my son.”
“I prayed to God, I asked, ‘Where is my son?'” she continued. “He was just a boy, much too young to disappear on his own.”
The family and other villagers looked high and low for the boy. Family members and friends went to Bagram, Logar and Gardez to inquire from the Americans regarding their son’s whereabouts, but “no one knew about him.” Asadullah’s father sold his land to fund the several thousands dollars it took to fund the search for his son. It took the family seven months before they found out where their son was held.
Thanks for the correction, Jeff. Very good to hear from you. I’ve amended the wording as a result, and I hope you think the changes are appropriate.
“Hassan’s hearing went smoothly. I’m hopeful they’ll approve him for transfer. He wants to go home and get on with his life.”
The hearing did NOT go smoothly. Attash was denied transfer.
I wish the PRB would hurry up with the Afghan moneychanger and the final Karachi Six detainee.
I think his attorney’s allowed to be optimistic, Tobias. Personally, I find his case rather sad and troubling because he was a juvenile when he was seized, and yet that never counted for anything, despite the US’s obligations to juveniles seized in times of conflict.
@I think his attorney’s allowed to be optimistic, Tobias.
There’s a difference between being optimistic and being realistic. His family is known to have had close ties to al-Qaeda and Attash’s behavior during the hearing didn’t help. Personally, I think he should be tried. According to the CIA torture report, he wasn’t subjected to torture and the FBI did interrogate him without torturing him as well. I’m surprised a case hasn’t been brought against him.
Anyway, here’s the determination. He didn’t impress the board.
Yes, I agree, Tobias, that anyone who can face a trial should be tried. Perhaps they don’t want his age to be highlighted.
Thanks again, Tobias. As I say, article on this and the other recent decisions to follow tomorrow.
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.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: