It took 5 years, not 1, for last Guantánamo detainee to get a parole hearing

Yemeni captive Hassan Bin Attash in a photo from his 2008 Guantánamo prison profile provided to McClatchy by WikiLeaks
Yemeni captive Hassan Bin Attash in a photo from his 2008 Guantánamo prison profile provided to McClatchy by WikiLeaks

A 30-something Saudi-born detainee appealed to a national security review board for his freedom on Thursday, essentially wrapping up a 2011 presidential order to give all uncharged, uncleared captives here a parole-style hearing within a year.

Hassan Bin Attash, who was brought to the prison camps in September 2004, went before the board by video feed with a groomed beard in a short, loose-fitting V-neck shirt, according to an officer who watched it from the Washington, D.C., area. His head was uncovered. He was the last eligible captive among the 61 prisoners to get a Periodic Review Board hearing.

An unclassified March 2016 intelligence profile prepared for the hearing cast him as a skilled bomb maker who “grew up immersed in violent extremist ideology” in a family that was close to Osama bin Laden. It describes him as a sidekick of sorts, an aide to senior al-Qaida members who ran errands, helped “facilitate the movement of fighters” and helped run safehouses.

Left unsaid in the unclassified profile was that he is the younger brother of Walid Bin Attash, who is awaiting a death-penalty trial as the alleged deputy in the 9/11 plot. Hassan Bin Attash was captured in Pakistan on Sept. 11, 2002 with another alleged Sept. 11 conspirator, Ramzi bin al Shibh, and according to the so-called Senate Torture Report, was held for 120 days or more by the CIA.

His lawyer, David Remes, calls Bin Attash Guantánamo’s youngest detainee, a man who left home in Saudi Arabia around age 13, was captured in his teens and probably got to the prison in Cuba at age 19. An earlier prison profile said he was born in 1985. But the latest one put his date of birth at some time in 1982. It also said he was either a Yemeni or Saudi citizen.

“Now a young man, with a mind of his own, he is no longer under the sway of others and can make independent decisions,” Remes said in a statement he read to the board. “I have watched him grow into adulthood. At times I have found him to be more sensible and level-headed than many others his age.”

His lawyer also said he had never heard Bin Attash “deprecate the American people or American values, or express extremist views.”

An unnamed U.S. military officer assigned to help the captive make his case for release wrote that Bin Attash seeks to return to his native Saudi Arabia, attend college, marry and build a career as a linguist because Bin Attash is fluent in Arabic, English and Pashtu and knows some Urdu and Farsi.

A career track in translating, the American officer said, would let him “meet new people from diverse backgrounds” in the Saudi kingdom where “nearly half of the Saudi Arabian working population is foreign born.”

President Barack Obama ordered the Pentagon to hold the new reviews in March 2011 with the participation of the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All were to be done within a year, with file reviews to follow every six months and a hearing three years later.

Instead, the board is just completing its first round of hearings. A Pentagon spokesman blamed delays on the complexity of setting up the Periodic Review Secretariat at the Department of Defense and the inter-agency board as well as collecting and analyzing far-flung intelligence.

Reporters visiting this remote base to cover war court proceedings couldn’t get a glimpse of the hearing, a video-feed between a double-wide trailer inside the Detention Center Zone, far from the court, and a board room in Virginia. Instead, reporters and other observers were allowed to watch the first 15-minute, unclassified portion from a conference room in the Pentagon.

With Thursday’s review, the panel has held full hearings on 64 captives since 2013, and met with most of them. A few boycotted. It is still deciding some detainees’ fates but has so far upheld the indefinite detention of 19 captives and approved the release of 24.

Five Afghan prisoners entitled to a hearing left without parole board review by executive order: They were Taliban members Obama ordered released to Qatar on May 31, 2014 in exchange for the release of POW Bowe Bergdahl.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg