Parole panel clears Day 1 Guantánamo detainee

This Jan. 11, 2002 Department of Defense photo shows the first 20 captives taken to Guantánamo in a holding area at Camp X-Ray. All but four of those so-called ‘worst of the worst’ are gone from Guantánamo, and three are now approved for transfer.
This Jan. 11, 2002 Department of Defense photo shows the first 20 captives taken to Guantánamo in a holding area at Camp X-Ray. All but four of those so-called ‘worst of the worst’ are gone from Guantánamo, and three are now approved for transfer. U.S. NAVY

The Guantánamo parole board on Friday cleared a Yemeni captive who got there the day Camp X-Ray opened, raising the number of men among the remaining 79 captives who can be transferred to 30.

The Periodic Review Board recommended that Muhammed al Ghanim, about 40, go to a Persian Gulf country “with reintegration support,” rather than his homeland of Yemen. He was one of the first 20 so-called “worst of the worst” the Pentagon photographed kneeling in orange jumpsuits inside a cage the day the detention center opened, Jan. 11, 2002. U.S. military intelligence profiled him as “an experienced militant who probably acted as a guard for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.”

The panel said in a brief statement that it approved the Yemeni’s release in part because of his candor about “fighting in Afghanistan with the Taliban, and the detainee’s comprehension of and remorse for the effects of his actions on others.”

The Pentagon released the board decision along with a second one that upheld the indefinite detention of a 13th “forever prisoner,” Algerian Abdul Razak Ali, 45. The man, also known as Said Bakush, was captured in Pakistan in March 2002. Now, 26 captives await hearings or decisions on whether they must stay or could go to another country with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Also Friday, attorneys said the Army judge overseeing the Sept. 11 trial restored female guards to escort duties that permit them to handle the accused 9/11 plotters to and from legal meetings and court.

Col. James L. Pohl, the judge, has scheduled two weeks of pretrial hearings this month in the case of the five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad and four accused accomplices are due in court July 18.

It will mark the first time since Pohl issued a temporary restraining order on Jan. 7, 2015, that women can touch the men while escorting them to and from court sessions and legal meetings. Pohl had suspended those duties while he weighed whether the rights of female guards to do the same jobs as their male counterparts trumped cultural and religious objections by the five Muslim men, an issue that outraged political and military leaders.

Pohl ultimately ruled for the women in April in a 39-page decision but postponed lifting the order because senior leadership had criticized his ban, creating an appearance of unlawful influence in the independence of the Guantánamo war court.

Then, just before Memorial Day, Carter and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a 179-word statement declaring their support for freedom of religion, opposition to sexism and respect for the independence of the military commissions. Pohl’s decision was not released on the Pentagon’s war court website Friday, but two attorneys who read it said the order was effective Friday.

At Guantánamo, the prison spokesman Navy Capt. John Filostrat did not respond to an email inquiry on whether the order had reached the secretive Camp 7 prison where the military houses Mohammad and other former CIA prisoners.

Attorney Walter Ruiz, for Sept. 11 defendant Mustafa al Hawsawi, said the judge’s order found the Carter-Dunford statement was an “appropriate action to absolve any taint from their comments upon the public’s view of the independence of the commission.”

While Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, the since-retired commander of the U.S. Southern Command, led the charge in criticizing Pohl — and at one point personally apologized to prison troops at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba over his inability to get Pohl’s order rescinded — Ruiz said the judge “took judicial notice” that Kelly was no longer in service.

Pohl denied a request by some defense attorneys to argue the issue at this month’s hearing. He rejected remarks by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, and an attempt to legislate against his restraining order, saying “political speech by politicians would not lead an objective informed observer to have significant doubt as to the fairness of the commission.”

Kelly’s Southcom successor, Adm. Kurt Tidd, disclosed in March that 15 troops had filed discrimination complaints about the order. His spokeswoman said eight were men, and all 15 complaints were lodged between Jan. 20 and Feb. 3, 2015. All have likely left the base by now as most troops serve nine-month tours.

It was not known how many, if any, women are currently assigned to Task Force Platinum, the code name of the special Army unit that guards Camp 7.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg