US weighs release for Kenyan held at Guantánamo since 2007

The insignia of the Periodic Review Board bureaucracy at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo.
The insignia of the Periodic Review Board bureaucracy at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo.

A Kenyan man who has been held at the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since 2007 made his first appearance Tuesday before a review board deciding whether he can be released from custody.

Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu spoke by video-link from the base to Periodic Review Board members in the U.S. Most of the hearing was closed except a portion at the beginning that can be viewed by journalists at the Pentagon.

A Pentagon profile released before the hearing said Abdul Malik, 42, trained with extremists in Somalia and developed a “close relationship” with members of al-Qaida in East Africa. It says he was involved in terrorist plots in Mombasa in November 2002, a reference to an attack on the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel, in which 13 people died, and an unsuccessful attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner. He has not been charged with a crime.

Kenyan authorities captured him and turned him over to the U.S. in March 2007.

Since that time, personal representatives appointed by the military say he has been well-behaved prisoner, serving as a camp cook for other prisoners and reading Dale Carnegie management books in hopes of returning to his work as the owner of a diving and fishing business. They told the board he wants to return to his family but would be willing to be resettled in a country with an Arabic-speaking majority.

“We are convinced that Abdul Malik’s intention to pursue a better way of life if transferred from Guantánamo Bay is authentic and that he bears no animosity toward anyone,” the representatives, whose names were not released, wrote to the board.

The board has been reviewing prisoners since late 2013 as part of President Barack Obama’s larger effort to reduce the number of prisoners held at Guantánamo and shutter the facility, moving the remainder to U.S. facilities Congress, however, has barred moving any to the U.S.

There are now 80 prisoners held at Guantánamo, including 27 who have been cleared and are awaiting transfer.