A day after the Obama administration disclosed its largest single-day detainee downsizing, the Pentagon revealed Tuesday that the Guantánamo parole board approved the indefinite detention of a Libyan captive — the prison’s 18th board-approved “forever prisoner.”
Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush, 48, got to the detention center in southeast Cuba on Aug. 5, 2002. He has never been charged with a crime. The board decision dated Monday said he “played a significant role in al-Qaida operations,” was an explosives expert and trainer and had no plans for life after Guantánamo. It essentially declared him too dangerous to go.
At his hearing July 14, an unnamed U.S. military officer helping him make his case for freedom called the captive “eager and excited to begin a new chapter in his life. Ismael wishes only to move forward and to put the past behind him.” The U.S. officer also called him a sports enthusiast who likes to watch and play soccer, takes health and life skills classes at Guantánamo and appreciates the various cultural backgrounds he has encountered at communal detention.
A U.S. military intelligence estimate issued in May called him a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who “almost certainly plotted to kill Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.” The State Department branded LIFG a terrorist organization in 2004, then delisted it in December. The May intelligence profile called Bakush “compliant but uncooperative” in U.S. military custody because he had offered “little information of value while outlasting a series of interrogators.”
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The panel that rejected his bid for release called him lacking in candor, evasive and providing “frequently absurd” answers to questions about his past and beliefs. It is not possible to know what he told the board during the closed session. At his request, his detainee statement was withheld from release — a prerogative the Periodic Review Board gives Guantánamo detainees.
The decision, posted on a Pentagon website Tuesday, made Bakush the 18th captive to lose his bid for release at the board President Barack Obama ordered set up in 2011. It was his first appearance before the board. Under the PRB program, he can get another hearing in three years. Meantime, representatives of the Justice, State, Homeland Security and Defense departments as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Intelligence can undertake file reviews.
The announcement came just one day after the Pentagon disclosed that a C-17 cargo plane left the remote base in Cuba Saturday night carrying 12 Yemenis and three Afghans to resettlement in the United Arab Emirates. All 15 were cleared to go with security assurances through interagency reviews.
Of the 61 detainees still at Guantánamo, 20 are cleared for release to security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, 10 are charged with war crimes and 13 await PRB decisions.
Bakush is one of two Libyans held at the detention center. The other is former CIA captive Mustafa Abu Faraj al Libi, whose case went before the board on Tuesday. He did not attend.
See the names of the other Forever Prisoners at the Herald’s Periodic Review Board Tracker, here.