22 of Guantánamo’s 59 prisoners are now cleared to go

Yassin Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim in a 2005 photo from his leaked Guantánamo prison profile.
Yassin Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim in a 2005 photo from his leaked Guantánamo prison profile.

With the clock ticking toward a possible halt in detainee transfers, the Pentagon disclosed Tuesday that the Obama administration parole panel has cleared another Yemeni “forever prisoner” — raising to 22 the number of captives who could be gone by the time President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

Yassin Qasim Muhammad Ismail Qasim, 37, got to Guantánamo in May 2002 and, though never charged with a crime, was classified for years as a “forever prisoner.” Now he’s among 22 of the prison’s 59 captives who could leave to third country resettlement with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter after 30 days notice to Congress.

The inter-agency Periodic Review Board recommended the Yemeni be resettled in an Arab country in the Persian Gulf that has a strong rehabilitation and resettlement program and access to mental health resources. It noted that since it rejected his earlier bid for release in March, Qasim had taken Camp 6 classes, including art, and met with mental health counselors to better himself.

Qasim “no longer appears to be driven by extremist ideology,” the decision dated Dec. 8 said.

Of the 59 captives today, 10 men are charged in the military commissions and 27 are indefinite detainees in the war on terror, “forever prisoners.”

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Qasim went to Afghanistan in 1999, according to his latest, May U.S. intelligence profile, “received extensive combat training, and probably fought against the northern Alliance near Bagram before his capture in 2001.”

It called him “highly non-compliant” with the guard force across his years here but offense-free for the past two years. Prison staff say that the prospect of transfer through the Periodic Review Board process has created an atmosphere of calm at Camp 6, the lockup for low-value detainees who in the past have engaged in long-term hunger strikes.

The board in March declared him too dangerous to release but encouraged the captive to “take advantage of educational and counseling opportunities” at the prison, and his advocates to help develop some post detention plans.

An unnamed U.S. military officer assigned to help Qasim argue for release told the panel last month that, although the Yemeni still “worries and desperately wants to go home,” he has become compliant in captivity. The officer attributed that, in part, to the Yemeni turning to art classes after his earlier rejection of release. There he “found an area he was passionate about and one that he excelled in.”

His attorney, David Remes, said in a statement that Qasim has “been looking forward to this day for a very long time.”

It is not clear how many of the 22 men will be sent to third-country resettlement or repatriation before Obama leaves office Jan 21, or what will happen once he’s gone. Trump has been critical of some of the current White House’s releases.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg