Guantánamo parole board declines to clear former Bin Laden bodyguard

Muhammed al Ansi in a photo from his 2008 Guantánamo prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group.
Muhammed al Ansi in a photo from his 2008 Guantánamo prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group.

The Guantánamo parole board has upheld the detention of a Yemeni “forever prisoner” profiled as a former Osama bin Laden bodyguard despite pledges by former President Jimmy Carter’s Atlanta-based Carter Center to help the man succeed in his transition to life after 15 years in U.S. custody.

The board wrote in a short decision released by the Pentagon on Thursday that it could not recommend the release of Muhammed al Ansi, 40 or 41, given “the significant derogatory information regarding the detainee’s past activities in Afghanistan.” It was dated March 23.

He becomes the fifth indefinite detainee, neither charged nor designated for release by a 2009-10 task force to have his forever prisoner status upheld by the Periodic Review Board. Another 20 forever prisoners once deemed too dangerous to release have been approved for transfer, and some are gone.

At his Feb. 23 hearing, Atlanta lawyer Lisa Strauss said that she had enlisted the Carter Center to help the Yemeni if he were resettled in another country. Strauss, whose only detainee client is Ansi, said that he has long respected “American culture,” something she learned from nearly 300 hours of meetings with him at the base across eight years.

In that time, she said, they discussed “movies, television, food, magazines, and my situation as a working wife and mother.” He also “loves,” she said, the Fast & Furious movie series, the Atlanta-based zombie TV show The Walking Dead and National Geographic.

Ansi got to Guantánamo in January 2002 as one of 30 men who had fled Afghanistan and had been captured by Pakistani forces. They were believed to have been bin Laden’s bodyguards. Many of those so-called “Dirty 30” have since been released.

An October 2015 U.S. intelligence assessment said that Ansi went to Afghanistan in 1999, joined al-Qaida, swore an oath of allegiance to bin Laden “and served as his bodyguard.” It added suspicions that he had probably fought U.S. forces invading Afghanistan at Tora Bora and was at one time possibly considered for a suicide mission. At Guantánamo, it said, he has been mostly a well behaved prisoner.

A U.S. military officer assigned to help Ansi make his case for release told the board that he had studied math, science, English, Spanish, life skills, computers, health and art in his time at the U.S. Navy base.

Under the Periodic Review Board system, he is entitled to another review in six months. The board said it would conduct that file review and urged the captive to continue working with Navy medical staff at the prison to continue dealing with an unspecified, chronic health condition.

Strauss said in her offer of assistance by the Carter Center that the philanthropic organization had similarly helped a captive who was repatriated in 2007, during the Bush years, to an unidentified country where “it was questionable whether he would be welcomed.”

She did not elaborate but said the center can provide “support and supervision” consistent with its belief that “people can improve their own lives when provided with the necessary skills, knowledge, and access to resources.”