24th Periodic Review Board Held at Guantánamo for Yemeni Who Has Become A Health Adviser to His Fellow Prisoners


Guantanamo prisoner Yasin Ismail, a Yemeni, in a photo from 2005 included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Last week — delayed for a week because of bad weather — the 24th Periodic Review Board took place at Guantánamo, for Yasin Ismail (aka Yassin Ismail), a Yemeni prisoner who is reportedly 36 years old — although, years ago, one of his lawyers stated that his year of birth had incorrectly been recorded as 1979, when he was actually born in 1982, which would mean that he is currently 33 years old. I note that no one, apart from Human Rights First, has actually written about this PRB.

The Periodic Review Boards were established in 2013 to review the cases of prisoners regarded as “too dangerous to release” by the the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that, in 2009, had reviewed the cases of all the prisoners held when Barack Obama took office. Alarmingly, these men — 46 in total — were given this description even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. In other words, rumor, hearsay and unreliable statements by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, hinted that they were dangerous, when that might not have been true at all.

25 other prisoners, initially recommended for prosecution, were also made eligible for the PRBs after the basis of their trials collapsed following a series of devastating rulings by the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., which ruled that Congress had invented a raft of war crimes, and had used them to illegally prosecute prisoners in Guantánamo’s already discredited military commission trial system.

Since the PRBs began in November 2013, 20 prisoners have had decisions made by the review boards, and in 17 cases — a whopping 85% of the cases decided — the prisoners reviewed have been recommended for release. This is good news for those of us who were always opposed to the deeply flawed description of people as “to dangerous to release,” but unfortunately 40 men are still awaiting reviews, and unless President Obama makes a concerted effort to speed up the PRBs this year, they will not all be completed before leaves office, even though, when he issued an executive order in March 2011 approving the ongoing imprisonment of those deemed “too dangerous to release,” he promised that reviews of their cases — the PRBs — would be completed within a year.

Yasin Ismail is one of the 46 men regarded as “too dangerous to release.” The son of a sheep farmer, he had his habeas corpus petition turned down by a District Court judge in April 2010, a decision that was upheld on appeal a year later. The judges were not persuaded by his claims that he had been kidnapped in Afghanistan and sold to the US, and it may well be that, as I explained at the time his habeas petition was turned down, that he probably “attended the al-Farouq training camp, traveled with others to the Tora Bora mountains, where a showdown took place between al-Qaeda and US forces in November and December 2001, and where he was eventually captured, and, on three occasions while he was in Afghanistan, saw Osama bin Laden make speeches.”

However, as I also explained when he lost his appeal, Senior Judge Laurence H. Silberman, “one of the most conservative jurists in the federal system,” according to SCOTUSblog, “issued the following alarming declaration about the perceived difference between dangerous people being released in the criminal justice system (because proof of guilt cannot be established) and prisoners from Guantánamo being released,” which demonstrates the hysteria with which prisoners like Yasin Ismail have come to be regarded by parts of the US establishment.

Judge Silberman noted:

In the typical criminal case, a good judge will vote to overturn a conviction if the prosecutor lacked sufficient evidence, even when the judge is virtually certain that the defendant committed the crime. That can mean that a thoroughly bad person is released onto our streets, but I need not explain why our criminal justice system treats that risk as one we all believe, or should believe, is justified.

When we are dealing with detainees, candor obliges me to admit that one can not help but be conscious of the infinitely greater downside risk to our country, and its people, of an order releasing a detainee who is likely to return to terrorism.

Analyzing Judge Silberman’s comments, I stated, “What is particularly depressing about these passages is that, while Judge Silberman is correct to defend the criminal justice system’s adherence to the law, he thoroughly betrays those principles by treating the Guantánamo prisoners as some kind of exceptional beings beyond the law, super-terrorists who would wreak havoc on America in an instant, when, to be honest, someone like Yasein Ismael [Yasin Ismail], a foot soldier for the Taliban, is not someone ‘likely to return to terrorism,’ as he was never involved in terrorism in the first place.”

For his Periodic Review Board, this distinction was acknowledged by the authorities at Guantánamo, who “judge[d] that he had connections with and access to some senior members [of al-Qaeda] but did not play an organizational role in the group.” The authorities also claimed that his “behavior and statements while at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility indicate that he retains extremist views, although he has told US officials that he does not intend to reengage in terrorist activity.” The authorities also claimed that he “has repeatedly expressed interest in extremist conflicts and a strong dislike for the US and has attempted at times to incite other detainees against the guard force,” although most of his “infractions” took place during 2013, when he was a prominent hunger striker in the prison-wide hunger strike that took place that year.

The authorities also noted that he “has expressed a desire to be transferred to an Arab or other Muslim country and probably would struggle to integrate into a culture different from his own.” Although it was also noted that, if he were to be repatriated, “he probably would seek out support from family members or other former associates. some of whom have ties to AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], the truth is that the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate any Yemenis from Guantánamo, and, for him to be released, a third country would have to be found that would be prepared to take him in. Irrelevant, therefore, is the authorities’ concern that his “paternal cousin, Rashad Muhammad Sa’id Ismail, is a longtime al-Qa’ida affiliate and AQAP recruiter who would be well-placed to help [him] reengage in terrorism.” As an aside, it was also noted that Rashad Ismail’s brother is former Guantánamo prisoner Sadiq Ismail (ISN 069), who was repatriated in 2007. The authorities noted that there was “no reporting indicating that [he] has reengaged in terrorism,” although it was also noted that they do not know “whether he has reintegrated successfully into society.”

Below, I’m posting the statements made by Yasin Ismail’s personal representatives (military personnel appointed to help prisoners prepare for their PRBs) and by his lawyer, David Remes. The personal representatives spoke about how he “has used his years in GTMO actively learning about nutrition and medicine,” and as a result he “has started counseling other detainees in nutrition to increase their knowledge in an effort to assist with their quality of life.” David Remes added that Yasin had given up his hunger strike, which he viewed “as a form of peaceful protest, the only means of expression open to him,” Remes also noted that he “well-respected by other detainees,” and reminded the board that another relative of his is held at Guantánamo, Abdalmalik Wahab (aka Abdel Malik Wahab al-Rahabi, ISN 037) who was approved for release by a PRB in December 2014.

Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 26 Jan 2016
Yassin Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim, ISN 522
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Members of the Board, we are the Personal Representatives for Yassin Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim. When I first went to meet Yassin, I was uncertain if he would participate in the meeting since he was on a hunger strike. During our first meeting, he explained to me that he was very happy that we were there and he felt hopeful for the future as being detained made him feel as if there was no tomorrow. He went on to explain that the reason for his hunger strike was not out of rebellion but that he wanted to bring focus to being detained so that he could get some sort of resolution, but not cause animosity. He just felt hopeless. He offered that day to stop his hunger strike because he felt that he could see hope for the future. His demeanor is one of a serious, thoughtful man which both my partner and I can confirm.

Yassin comes from a large family that owns a farm which has been in the family for generations in Yemen. He has learned how to work this business growing up throughout his school years with his father. This farm is now so large that the family has to hire extra helpers. Upon his release, even if he is not able to return to Yemen, this farm’s value and the money generated from it will help financially support Yassin wherever he is reintegrated. In addition, he has two brothers that work in Saudi Arabia that can assist him. His brothers work in business which Yassin is considering as an employment option. His goals for his future involve continuing his education, building a family and reconnecting with the family.

As we were getting to know Yassin, we learned that he has spent much of his time reading and learning while in GTMO. We listed the many health and medical books and journals he has read as an exhibit in his case file. In fact, because of his passion for health, he has started counseling other detainees in nutrition to increase their knowledge in an effort to assist with their quality of life. Yassin has used his years in GTMO actively learning about nutrition and medicine which he may continue to study once he leaves here. As you will see during his opening statement, he is also working on his English. He will not leave GTMO the same way he entered but he will have broadened his mind. He will have the support of his family and is looking forward to creating a successful future. We appreciate you taking time to hear his case and your consideration for transfer.

Yassin understands that in order to be recommended for transfer he must first gain the board’s approval. Therefore he is willing and ready to answer your questions.

We and the PC [Private Counsel] are here throughout this proceeding to answer your questions.

Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 26 Jan 2016
Yassin Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim, ISN 522
Opening Statement of Private Counsel David H. Remes

Good morning. I am David Remes, private counsel for Yassin Qasim Mohammed Ismail (ISN 522). (His name is Yassin, not Yassim.)

I have represented Yassin in his habeas corpus case since July 2004 and have met with him dozens of times. I have also met members of his immediate and extended families on several of my trips to Yemen. In addition, I currently represent Abdalmalik Wahab (ISN 37), a second cousin of Yassin by marriage, whom the PRB cleared in December 2014, and I represented Yassin’s second cousin Sadeq Ismail (ISN 69), who was repatriated to Yemen in June 2007. I spoke with Sadeq on January 3, 2016, and with one of Yassin’s brothers on December 20, 2015. I am submitting a separate statement summarizing those conversations.

Yassin is intelligent and perceptive. He is serious and well-mannered. He is a fine writer and a natural teacher. He thinks through his actions and makes his own decisions. I especially value my meetings with Yassin because he is a close observer of life in the camps and provides context for detainees’ concerns. I can confirm that he is well-respected by other detainees. Yassin is also deliberate. He viewed his hunger strike as a form of peaceful protest, the only means of expression open to him. He was only trying to make himself heard. I know if he had some other form of peaceful protest, he would have stopped his strike. In light of this proceeding, he has stopped his strike and hopes to persuade the Board to clear him for transfer.

Yassin is not a threat to the national security of the United States. His cousin started a family after he returned to Yemen and lives a peaceful life as a day laborer. His brother, who also has a family, is pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering. The Board has cleared his cousin Abdalmalik Wahab for transfer. Wherever Yassin is sent, he will likewise have a family and live a normal life. He aspires to teach Arabic, which my habeas linguist, a master of classical Arabic, considers him well qualified to do. At age 36, Yassin has lost the wanderlust and thirst for adventure he had at age 22. After fourteen years at Guantanamo, he has no appetite for politics and simply wants to get on with his life.

Yassin prefers to go to an Arabic-speaking country, but his goal is release, and he is ready to go wherever the United States sees fit to send him. He is ready to accept such security conditions as the U.S. may require and to take part in rehabilitation and reintegration programs. He does not require continued detention. I urge the Board to approve him for transfer. Thank you.

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,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). 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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5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a report about the most recent Periodic Review Board at ‪Guantanamo‬, for “forever prisoner” Yasin Ismail, a Yemeni whose habeas corpus petition was turned down in 2010. In Guantanamo, he has been learning about nutrition and medicine, and as a result he “has started counseling other detainees in nutrition to increase their knowledge in an effort to assist with their quality of life.” Will the board recommend him for release like 17 of the 20 men whose cases have been decided?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Check out the definitive Periodic Review Board list I created for the Close Guantanamo campaign: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Periodic-Review-Boards

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    The next Periodic Review Board is on February 16, but there should be two happening every week. It’s for Ayub (Ayoub) Murshid Ali Salih, one of six men seized in Karachi on the 1st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, on the same day as alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh, but, I think, in unconnected house raids. All six were tortured in a black site in Afghanistan prior to being sent to Guantanamo.

  4. Martin says...

    Qasim has been denied release. I’m not surprised due to his praise for Zarqawi and Bin Laden in his wikileaks file. I also doubt Sharqawi will be released. Paracha, Ansi and Slahi have a chance due to their good behavior and non-praise for terrorist leaders. Slahi’s hearing is on June 2.


    I think 50 detainees at the most will remain in custody. 18 is way too low.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Martin. Yes, I saw that about Qasim. I’ll be writing about it soon – and about al-Sharabi and Paracha’s PRBs.
    The figure of 18 came from the 10 already in the trial system, and the number of threats identified by intelligence personnel, some of whom were involved in their capture and interrogation.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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