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March 20, 2014

Guantanamo Periodic Review Board Hearings Continue at a Glacial Pace

This morning, observers and media had the opportunity to remotely view the unclassified portion of the periodic review board (PRB) hearing in the case of Ali Ahmad al-Rahizi, a Yemeni who has been detained at Guantanamo for over 12 years. The hearing will determine if indefinite detention is still warranted for the detainee.

Today’s brief session, lasting only 30 minutes or so was entirely a stick-to-the-script affair. The detainee, who has refused formal counsel, had his personal representatives read a prepared statement about his aspirations to return to Yemen, marry, and continue in the family produce business. After the statements were read, the public portion abruptly ended with no questions from the review board.

The review board process, authorized by the Obama Administration in 2011 (but delayed until last November), is progressing far too slowly. Roughly 70 detainees who will undergo the intra-agency PRB process and have a hearing. But so far only three detainees have appeared before the administrative board. If the administration continues the hearings at this pace, they won’t be completed for years. In the two previous cases, one detainee was cleared for conditional transfer to his home country while the other was recommended for continued indefinite detention at Guantanamo.

In a study of contrasts, the case against Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Abu Ghaith continued this week in Manhattan federal court. Abu Ghaith is said to be the most senior al Qaeda operative to ever face charges in the United States. Ghaith was only apprehended in early 2013 in Jordan and extradited to the United States. He is already being prosecuted with closing arguments expected next week. Al-Razihi at today’s PRB hearing has been in custody awaiting trial or proper adjudication since 2001.

The president has repeatedly stated his intent to close the prison at Guantanamo. If it is indeed to close, more government resources are needed to review the sizeable number of detainees who find themselves indefinitely detained. As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and pivots to a post-war environment, it is important not to lose sight of all the stray threads that have been created in the aftermath of 9/11. Guantanamo and the detainees still in limbo continue to be a big piece of the puzzle.

The Pentagon is expected to release the results of the hearing in a few weeks. Of course, so much of what goes on in the hearings is classified and not public. All we have to go on are the pre-drafted statements that are available even before the session begins. So much for ‘transparency’. Whatever the outcome for this detainee, the process and speed of these hearings needs to improve.