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April 27, 2016

Former Al Qaeda Member Receives PRB Review

By Leah Schulz

Yesterday, Gitmo detainee Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman received his Periodic Review Board hearing to determine whether he represents a “continuing threat to the security of the United States.” Originally from Yemen, Uthman has been held at Guantanamo since 2002. While NGO observers were unable to witness the hearing as a result of technical difficulties, submitted statements read at the hearing provide the basis for this summary.  

According to the Department of Defense, fundamentalists recruited Uthman at a school in Yemen known for promoting Islamic extremism. He is tied to other al-Qaeda members, including his brother and several of the USS Cole bombers. The government reports that Uthman left Yemen to fight in Afghanistan, where he was later selected to be a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. After fighting in Afghanistan, Uthman fled to Pakistan, where Pakistani forces detained him in 2001.

In interviews, Uthman denies being a bin Laden body guard and involvement with al Qaeda, maintaining he was in Afghanistan to teach Islamic law. The U.S. government, however, argues that additional statements of his suggest he retains anti-U.S. sentiments and is sympathetic to extremist causes. 

Since arriving at Guantanamo, Uthman has been “mostly compliant,” committing less than 80, mostly non-violent, infractions. Uthman’s personal counsel, David Remes, claims that Uthman does not pose a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. According to Remes’ statement, Uthman has demonstrated a developed sense of ethics, and more importantly, is willing to attend a rehabilitation program and live peacefully once released.

At age 36, Uthman is eager to rebuild his life. His family resides in Saudi Arabia and has the means to sustain him should he be resettled there. Uthman has also articulated plans to independently support himself. Before he went to Afghanistan, Uthman was a successful designer and manufacturer of men’s and women’s clothes. He now has detailed plans to start a sesame oil business.

Remes concludes that in transferring Uthman, the United States would be reuniting a strong and stable family and would be returning a young man capable of succeeding and contributing to his community.

Earlier this year the Obama Administration released a plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The plan commits to “accelerating the review of those detainees who have not had an initial PRB review and are neither currently designated for transfer nor charged or convicted by military commission.” As of this hearing, 80 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay and 38 are still eligible for PRB review. Ten more PRB hearings are scheduled in the coming months.