Parole board approves Yemeni’s release from Guantánamo on fifth review

Salem bin Kanad in a photo taken from his 2008 Guantánamo prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group.
Salem bin Kanad in a photo taken from his 2008 Guantánamo prison profile provided to McClatchy Newspapers by the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group.

The Guantánamo parole board has approved the release of a Yemeni “forever prisoner” on his fifth review, the latest sign that showing up at a Periodic Review Board hearing actually helps a captive win release from the downsizing war-on-terror prison in Cuba.

The decision, released by the Pentagon on Monday, means 27 of the 80 captives currently held at the U.S. detention center in Cuba can leave in a transfer deal that satisfies Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Salem bin Kanad, about 40, got to Camp X-Ray in the second week of its existence in January 2002 and was profiled as a veteran jihadist who left his homeland for Afghanistan a year ahead of the 9/11 attacks.

He was initially captured by the Northern Alliance in late 2001 and held near Mazar-i-Sharif at a prison fortress where captives staged an uprising in which CIA agent Johnny Spann was killed, according to a leaked 2008 prison profile. Fellow revolt survivor John Walker Lindh at one point cast Kanad as a commander of their Taliban-linked force, the profile said.

But subsequent U.S. intelligence assessments recast him as having a “low-level leadership role” in a Taliban front-line unit. It described him alternately as “mostly compliant” with his guards and having “an extremist mindset” that “has continued to praise terrorist groups and activities.”

The Periodic Review Board first considered Kanad’s case in January 2014 and concluded that his release could present a “significant threat to the security of the United States.” He declined to go to his hearing or offer information about his family or a plan for employment after Guantánamo. The board reviewed his file three times in 2015 and upheld that opinion.

Then he went before the board on April 5, but it is not known what he told the panel. At Kanad’s request, according to the Pentagon, the transcript of his hearing was withheld from the public.

But, according to his file, a military officer assigned to his case provided the board with information about Kanad’s family members, their commitment to help him reintegrate into an Arabic-speaking society, and his agreement to participate in a rehabilitation program — an argument that apparently won over the board. He has a father and siblings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and would like to join them, study English and computer science, and launch a career in sales to support them there.

“The board encourages the detainee to continue regularly attending classes” at Guantánamo, it wrote in its May 5 decision to approve his transfer, “and continue engaging with family members to prepare himself for transfer.”

The decision comes at a busy time — as the board is hearing from an unprecedented nine captives in a single month, May. It follows the Pentagon’s April 16 transfer of nine Yemenis with kin in the Saudi kingdom to a rehabilitation program there.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg