Review board upholds first forever prisoner’s Guantánamo detention

03/12/2014 6:39 PM

03/12/2014 6:55 PM

A parole-style panel at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has decided to recommend that the military continue to hold a Yemeni man in indefinite wartime detention without trial, according to a military document. The decision is the first of its kind for the Obama administration’s new Periodic Review Board system.

The board, which began operating late last year, examines whether it remains necessary to keep holding at Guantánamo several dozen detainees who have been deemed too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release.

The Yemeni man, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, was the second detainee scrutinized by the board, and it found that his continued indefinite detention was necessary to “protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” according to an unclassified summary of its final determination that the military released Wednesday. Rahabi had appeared before the board at a hearing Jan. 28.

Rahabi told the board that he harbored no ill feelings toward the United States, planned to work at a “ milk and honey farm” or work for his father’s tailoring business, and wanted to return to his family, including a 13-year-old daughter, Ayesha, according to a transcript.

“Being apart from Ayesha has been the hardest part of my detention,” he said. “In our calls, she says, ‘I want you to take me to the park; I want you to help me with my homework.’ She sends me five or six letters at a time. I will never again leave Ayesha without her father, my wife without her husband, my parents without their son. I want to make up for the 12 years I have been away.”

But the board said it was concerned “about his susceptibility to re-engagement” if he were repatriated, citing allegations including “significant ties” to al-Qaida and his possible selection to participate in a hijacking plot before his capture by Pakistani forces in December 2001, as well as the “marginal security environment” in his home region.

The board did note that Rahabi had “strong family support awaiting his return, including house, employment opportunities, and a wife and daughter ready to support him,” and it said it found his claim that he wanted to return to his family sincere, although it had questions regarding his credibility on other issues.

It said that it would take a second look at his file in six months, and that it hoped “to see continued positive engagement and constructive leadership in detention.”

David Remes, a lawyer who helped represent Rahabi in the hearing, said he met with him Tuesday morning to discuss the outcome. Remes said the board’s fears amounted to “guilt by association,” contending that there was “no real basis for concluding that he would be any kind of threat to the United States if he is returned to his family in Yemen.”

“We are disappointed with the result, but we'll take another shot at it when he has his next review in six months,” he said.

The board includes representatives from a half-dozen national security agencies. It is starting to go through the cases of about 70 detainees who were not recommended for transfer by a task force in January 2010, and who have not separately been charged before a military commission.

In January, the board recommended changing the status of the first such detainee it examined, saying he should be released if security conditions could be met.

President Barack Obama issued an order establishing the review board in 2011, but it was delayed amid a broader collapse of his administration’s effort to close the Guantánamo prison in the face of obstacles imposed by Congress. He revived that effort last spring amid a major hunger strike that at its peak encompassed a majority of detainees.

In a related development, lawyers for another detainee this week filed a lawsuit asking a court to halt the military’s policy of force-feeding prisoners who refuse to eat. While there have been attempts to challenge that policy in court before, the new suit is the first since a federal appeals court ruled that it had jurisdiction to oversee prison conditions.

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