Periodic Review Boards Approve Another Two Yemenis for Release from Guantánamo

17.12.16

Salman Rabei'i, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

Attentive Guantánamo-watchers will recall that, in September, the first round of Periodic Review Boards was completed at Guantánamo, for prisoners assessed as being “too dangerous to release,” or as eligible for prosecution by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama set up shortly after taking office for the first time in January 2009. For full details, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

On both fronts, the decisions taken about these men back in 2009 were dubious. For those deemed “too dangerous to release,” the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, rather undermining the credibility of their assessment, because, if information cannot be produced at a trial, it is fundamentally unreliable and does not rise to the level of evidence — and with Guantánamo, of course, torture and abuse run through everything, distorting all manner of claims regarding the credibility of the US authorities’ information about the prisoners.

41 men put forward for the PRBs were regarded as “too dangerous to release,” while 23 others had been recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions at Guantánamo — in the much-criticized military commission system, dragged unwisely from the history books after 9/11 — largely collapsed as a result of a number of appeals court rulings, which overturned some of the few convictions secured in the commissions, on the basis that the war crimes for which the men in question had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had, in fact, been invented by Congress.

Of the 64 men whose cases were considered, 37 have been approved for release, while 27 others have had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld — although everyone whose imprisonment is upheld receives subsequent administrative file reviews every six months, and the men are also guaranteed full reviews every three years. In reality, these have taken place within a much shorter timeframe, and in fact, of the 37 men approved for release, six initially had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, and were only approved for release in subsequent reviews.

This has just happened in the cases of two prisoners, and, as a result, of the 59 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, 22 have now been approved for release — seven by the 2009 task force, and 15 as a result of the PRBs. The other 22 approved for release by PRBs have already been freed.

Salman Rabei’i approved for release

The first of the two men to have his release approved after a second review is Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei’i aka al-Rabie (ISN 508), a Yemeni who was nothing more, at most, than a foot soldier for the Taliban, and who may, in fact, have only gone to Afghanistan to bring back a brother. His initial review took place in July 2015, but he had to wait until May 2016 to be told that his ongoing imprisonment had been approved, an extraordinarily long wait based, presumably, on the fact that the members of the review board — 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 — had been unable to reach a unanimous decision, and no prisoner can be approved for release unless it is by all the members of the board.

However, the decision to continue holding him was accompanied by a note that he would “receive a file review as soon as practicable,” and on September 1, just over three months after the decision to continue holding him was announced, a file review took place, which established that, “After reviewing relevant new information related to the detainee as well as information considered during the full review, the Board, by consensus, determined that a significant question is raised as to whether the detainee’s continued detention is warranted and therefore an additional full review should be conducted.”

That review took place on November 1, and it is clear that the role played by his latest attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Berris of Reprieve, was significant. As she explained to the board members at the hearing, “Stepping in suddenly for former counsel at the time of Salman’s review, I had the chance to meet neither Salman nor his family before making my submissions. Since that date, I have visited with both multiple times, and as a result, have a much better sense of which resources might be needed upon his resettlement, and which will be unnecessary.”

Sullivan-Berris further explained that “we very strongly believe there have been a variety of material changes to Salman’s case that warrant this full review, and you will find that Salman is eager to use this opportunity to answer questions that may have been left unanswered in his first board. Among the changes that are relevant to this board is his representation. The fact of new counsel comes with it the promise of post-release support that Salman otherwise lacked. As Reprieve’s client, Salman will be the beneficiary of our ‘Life After Guantánamo’ program, which provides a host of vital support mechanisms that carry our clients through the stages of re-integration. For several clients who were resettled and repatriated by both Administrations, we worked closely with the State Department and host governments on transition plans for clients; we have served as an ongoing point of contact for local authorities; and have facilitated financial support and referrals for needs ranging from job placement to mental health care.”

Adding information about her client and his family, Sullivan-Berris noted, “Salman arrived at Guantánamo when he was only 22. He sits before you today as a 37-year old man, the majority of his maturing having been done inside these walls. As with many of my clients, he has taught himself English from scratch. I will say that of those clients, Salman’s language proficiency is the best. This comes as no surprise when you understand his background. When I met with one of his sisters living in the UK, she told me repeatedly that education was uniquely prized in his family, and that theirs was the only [family] in the village in which each child — male and female — had gone to college. Though Salman was not able to finish, his education continued here at Guantánamo. You will have seen, in his file review submission, pages upon pages of meticulously written homework assignments, mostly self-delegated — English phrases repeated over and over, translated and conjugated back and forth. Our intent in submitting these was not to misuse your precious time, but to show you how dedicated Salman is — a trait that will serve him well in application to a new trade [and] in learning new skills upon release.”

As she also stated, “Salman has an impressive network of family to provide both emotional and financial support, wherever he is resettled. He has five siblings living stable, peaceful lives in three different countries. In the words of his sister, “‘he has five moms’ — referring to his four sisters and mother — ‘Anything, anything he needs, he will have it. He will not need any help. We will help him.’” I can personally attest to his family’s ability to help Salman get on his feet financially, and I will speak more to that end in a separate submission.”

She also stated, “I think you will recall from having met him last year, that Salman is a respectful and reserved man. At the risk of embarrassing him, I will go so far as to call him shy. Given his small number of infractions and demonstrated ability to get on with guards and prisoners alike, I strongly believe that the Board’s concerns do not lie in his behavior while in detention, nor in his personal capacity to find gainful employment — given his language skills and young age — but rather his alleged affiliations. We are confident that we can resolve those concerns in other submissions and in this hearing today.”

In approving his release, in a decision dated December 1, the board members, determining, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” explained that, in making their determination, they had “considered [his] low level of involvement with fighting and minimal training prior to detention,” and “also noted that [he] demonstrated greater candor than in his initial meeting and provided details of pre-detention activity consistent with the available detainee profile.” They also noted that he “does not currently demonstrate an extremist mindset or appear to be driven to reengage by extremist ideology,” and that he “has been mostly compliant in detention.” Finally, the board members also “considered the support network available to [him] upon transfer from family and others, and the family’s disapproval of terrorist involvement by two of [his] brothers and efforts to separate themselves from those brothers.”

Yassin Ismail is approved for release

Guantanamo prisoner Yassin Ismail (aka Yassim Qasim), a Yemeni, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Yassin Qasim Mohammed Ismail (ISN 522), a Yemeni known to the US authorities as Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim, has his case reviewed on February 2, 2016 and he was approved for ongoing detention on March 3, 2016. However, on September 1, he too had a file review at which it was decided that, “After reviewing relevant new information related to the detainee as well as information considered during the full review, the Board, by consensus, determined that a significant question is raised as to whether the detainee’s continued detention is warranted and therefore an additional full review should be conducted.”

Another low-level foot soldier, Ismail had his habeas corpus petition turned down in April 2010, a decision that was upheld on appeal a year later, but to be honest there was nothing about his case to suggest that he actually constituted any kind of threat to the US.

A statement from his attorneys has not been made publicly available, but his personal representative — a military official appointed to represent him in his PRB — spoke on his behalf at his second full review (on November 8), and clearly explained the changes in his behavior and attitude that led to his approval for release in his second review. The personal representative spoke about how he/she had been representing him for a year, and had seen “changes in his demeanor as he moved into communal living almost a year ago.” Ismail had been held in an isolation block because he had been a long-term hunger striker and was evidently regarded as uncooperative, and the move mentioned by the personal representative was to the communal living in Camp Six, where all the prisoners are now held except the “high-value detainees” in Camp Seven, after the isolation block, Camp Five, was closed in August this year.

The personal representative also stated, “When I first met Yassin, he stated hopelessness was the reason for his non-compliance. But, while I know he still worries and desperately wants to go home, there is a definite change in his demeanor. After receiving a negative final determination [in a PRB], there is always a possibility that a detainee can fault the process. But Yassin did not change for the negative but instead, he wanted to know what he could do to improve himself. He was not trying to mark off checkboxes, but something in him had changed. In my opinion, the change in Yassin came from taking Art classes. As he took to heart the final determination recommendation, to take advantage of educational opportunities, he found an area he was passionate about and one that he excelled in. While I know he still worries about his detention, his personality has opened up over there last year becoming a more relatable person. This makes for easy conversations that have allowed me to get to know him.”

The personal representative added, “Yassin is an intelligent man who has spent much of his time as described during his first board, reading books. He has an interest in medicine and health, which was discovered in GTMO because there was not an opportunity in the years prior to his arrival here. When he ponders on a subject he considers the larger picture and therefore, he does not jump to a quick answer but is objective about how one step affects the next. Sometimes, his answers are long because he is going through how each facet can affect an outcome. But, this is just part of his personality. Since he has made the move into communal living and enrolled in classes, you can see how opening his mind to education and Art has brought him joy and actually changed him for the better. He is actively planning for ways to support himself to become a functional part of society in hopes that will be transferred from GTMO. He was unable to do this is the past, because it was hard to see a future.”

In conclusion, the personal representative added that, “As Yassin looks to the future, his family will continue to be supportive as they have showed their love over the years. They have vowed ongoing support wherever he is reintegrated.”

In their final determination, made on December 8 but only made publicly available this week, the board members stated that, in approving his release, they had “considered [his] greater candor from his first hearing regarding his pre-detention activity, which was consistent with the available detainee profile, and that his responses were thoughtful and showed an effort to realistically consider the future.” The board members “also noted [his] extensive efforts to take advantage of opportunities in detention to better himself, to include multiple academic and art classes, as well as positive engagement with mental health counsellors.” The board members also “considered that [he] no longer appears to be driven by extremist ideology,” and that he “has taken steps to sever ties with extremists,” and also noted “the lack of any recent anti-US statements along with improvement in behavior.”

Is the future for these men uncertain?

For both these men, it is almost certain that President Obama will not be able to find third countries to offer them new homes before he leaves office (new homes being necessary because the entire US establishment, fearing the security situation in Yemen, has agreed that no Yemeni can be repatriated from Guantánamo).

It is to be hoped that Donald Trump will not scrap the PRBs and fail to follow through on the decisions taken by the PRBs regarding the 22 men still held who have been approved for release. It is, however, unclear if Trump will honor the existing arrangements, as he could scrap the executive order from 2011 that Obama issued, authorizing the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of 48 men, who later became eligible for the PRBs, which were specifically set up to review their cases.

Moreover, this is particularly relevant because, of the 27 men whose ongoing imprisonment was approved by the PRBs, seven more men have, like Salman Rabei’i  and Yassin Ismail, been granted full reviews after file reviews because, “After reviewing relevant new information related to the detainee as well as information considered during the full review, the Board, by consensus, determined that a significant question is raised as to whether the detainee’s continued detention is warranted and therefore an additional full review should be conducted,” and with the examples of Salman Rabei’i, Yassin Ismail and the four men previously approved for release after second reviews, there is to date a 100% record of men receiving second full reviews being approved for release.

The seven men are Moath al-Alwi (ISN 28), Mohammed Al-Ansi (ISN 29), Said Nashir (ISN 841) and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman (ISN 27) (whose reviews have already taken place, although no decisions have yet been taken), plus Saifullah Paracha (ISN 1094), Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj (ISN 1457) and Omar Mohammed Ali Al-Rammah (ISN 1017).

Just two men have so far had decisions taken, after file reviews, that “no significant question is raised as to whether [their] continued detention is warranted” —  Khalid Ahmed Qasim (ISN 242) and Sanad Ali Yislam Al Kazimi (ISN 1453).

Two more decisions have yet to be taken, and six more file reviews are scheduled for January and February, and I’ll be writing a follow-up article soon, looking in more details at these reviews.

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.

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24 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest Guantanamo article, providing an update on the Periodic Review Boards, in which two men previously recommended for ongoing imprisonment have been approved for release after subsequent reviews. What’s particularly interesting is that seven other men have also had reviews recommended under similar circumstances, and could also be approved for release. The troubling aspect of this whole story is that we do not yet know if Donald Trump will respect these decisions – and the PRBs – when he takes office. We must be prepared for a fight if he refuses to honor the decisions taken under Obama, and scraps the PRBs, as they are the only feasible way for prisoners who do not pose a threat to the US to be released.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Apologies for having posted this so late. I was out at Brockley Christmas Market, where my band The Four Fathers were playing. It was a great set! Photos soon!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Just updated – my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantanamo website: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Periodic-Review-Boards

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hanan Bagh wrote:

    Thanks for sharing Andy

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Hanan. Thanks for your interest. I think it’s fair to say, sadly, that not too many people are interested in the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners still held, and in the Periodic Review Boards, even though they are clearly Obama’s last chance to whittle the prison’s population down to perhaps just 30 men, or, in other words, to leave Trump with just 30 men not already approved for release, putting him on the spot if he were to decide not to release them. As I have mentioned, I very much hope he won’t mess with those approved for release but still held when he takes office, or with the PRBs, as otherwise it would be a very troubling backward step.
    I’ve known the stories of Salman al-Rabei’i and Yassin Ismail for ten years, and it’s always been clear to me that they were nothing more than, at best, simple recruits for the Taliban’s civil war with the Northern Alliance. To have a new president deciding that they are somehow significant in any way, after the long, long years it has taken to get to the position where a parole-type mechanism has been set up that can finally get them out of Guantanamo, would be a very depressing backwards step, and I hope people will mobilise against it if Trump proves to be as bad as he might be.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Hanan Bagh wrote:

    This should be at the top of anybody’s agenda who cares about human rights in the slightest,, people forget that these illegally held human beings will be their blue-eyed blond relatives one day when the next ‘enemy’ is designed,, they will be able to relate to that, but it’ll be too late.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, people are not, for example, sufficiently aware of Pastor Niemoller’s poem about the Nazis, Hanan. This is one of several versions, but it gets the point across:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    I expect Trump to do the very worst thing he could do with regard to Gitmo.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I fear you may be right, Rose, but, whatever the case, people need to be informed about what the situation is, and what they might expect, and I’m trying to make that information available so they can think about it.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    And I’m not sure how much most of the mainstream media is doing that, Rose!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    Andy: Our media: hardly at all. It is distressing.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    And I truly appreciate your keeping the issue alive, Andy.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Rose, for all your support!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Hanan Bagh wrote:

    don’t know what to make of this man [Trump], one minute he says he’s sick of American intervention abroad, next minute he says he’s going to bomb the sh*t out of this region to get ‘ISIS’,,, don’t think he has much say in foreign policy, think it’s all decided years ahead by the pentagon maybe….

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    It will be interesting to see how it pans out, Hanan. He will have to work with the party he is nominally the head of, as well as the career officials in the various government departments and agencies, and he has no experience of how to do any of that. As a result, I’m not even sure where many of the levers of power are going to be located. All I can say for certain is that decent people will need to be vigilant!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Nabil El Hachemi wrote:

    Well no one can predict how things will turn on when Trump will take office in january 20 ,2017.It depends on World events and on the Congress and house of representatives Attitudes on the National Security matters and will Trump will be willing to use the Weaver Rule in case the Members will oppose his decision to close Guantanamo prison .In fact more questions than answers! To be honest i am rather Pessimistic But who knows? In this Day and Age everything is possible just have a look at the World Today !almost trouble,Wars ,Armed conflicts ,drug addicts ,Terrorist acts etc…. in almost every part of the world.Let’s hope that Peace will prevail God willing.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    I share your hopes and fears, Nabil. Good to hear from you.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    I don’t think Trump will be looking to close Guantanamo, though, unfortunately, so we’ll probably have a renewed fight on our hands after Jan. 20, Nabil.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Sanchez Montebello wrote:

    What is your “Best Guess” about Trump, Andy?
    Trump doesn’t seem to respect anyone or anything.
    I fear the remaining prisoners will have massive fight on their hands. I’m currently not confident about current global conflicts and the propaganda that emanates from the U.S., either. The prisoners may become an unfortunate reason to keep them all detained.
    Not trying to discourage you, my friend… Just offering my feelings on this subject.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, absolutely, Sanchez, and I understand. I too fear the remaining prisoners may become pawns in another cynical game, hence my efforts to focus people’s attention on those already approved for release, and on the Periodic Review Boards. Efforts to stop men being released who have been approved for release must be resisted, and similarly, if Trump trashes the PRBs there needs to be resistance too. I’ll hopefully be working on new ways to keep a focus on these issues.

  21. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy!

    With regard to Trump, what are my fingers crossed over? An early scandal, over his personal behaviour, clear evidence of blatant and unrepentant bribery, or a terrible sexual scandal, something even he can’t deny, that forces him to resign, before he sows too much trouble.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that would be good, wouldn’t it, arcticredriver, but the scandals that ought to have engulfed him haven’t solidified, and when he gets to take over from Obama, it seems to me that the top job will provide him with a lot of cover.
    I suppose I’m hoping that Trump’s evident conflict of interests will end up being too much for Congress, or that his autocratic personality, and his choice of deputies, will clash with core Republicans to such an extent that a functioning government will be impossible. I also hope that many of those who voted from him see through him, but if Britain is anything to go by, the kind of delusion that encouraged people to vote for him, as with Brexit, is pretty impermeable to common sense – manifestations of what people are calling “post-truth” or “post-facts”, but which instead seem to me to be a fixation with an imagined past of prosperity – with a troubling racist subtext – that simply bears no relation to 21st century capitalist reality. If people really want a change, they need to demand a greatly redesigned capitalism – or, preferably to my mind, capitalism subjected to a pretty hefty socialist brake.

  23. Scott says...

    Thankfully, you were proven wrong. 19 detainees are going to be transferred.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/world/national-security/with-final-detainee-transfer-obamas-guantanamo-policy-takes-its-last-breath/2016/12/28/dfdf8cb2-cd0f-11e6-a747-d03044780a02_story.html?outputType=accessibility&nid=menu_nav_accessibilityforscreenreader

    Salman Rabaie, Yasin Ismail, and Mohammed Ansi made it just in time. Thank goodness. They were smart enough to be honest with the PRB the second time they appeared. It’s too late for the other detainees though. For example, Khaled Qasim, Suhayl Sharabi, and Sanad Kazimi lost their file reviews which proves they are incorrigible.

    I doubt Trump will bother to look for new homes for the other four detainees. At most, he probably will transfer Ahmed Dharbi to Saudi Arabia to serve the remainder of his sentence in a prison as part of his plea deal. Congress and FOX news wouldn’t throw a hissy fit because Dharbi wouldn’t walk free.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the update, Scott.

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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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