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September 22, 2015

One of Guantanamo’s “Dirty 30” Gets a Hearing as PRBs Inch Forward

By Alice Debarre

As the search for a potential prison to house the remaining Guantanamo detainees on U.S. soil makes the news, another key step towards closing the infamous detention center continues largely unnoticed, and at a despairingly slow pace. The Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) held it 21st hearing today, this time to determine whether Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, a detainee of almost 14 years, still poses a “continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

Al-Alwi, a 36-year-old Yemeni national, was captured in 2001 by Pakistani authorities alongside a group identified as the “Dirty 30” – a name given to them because of allegations that they had served as bodyguards for Osama bin Laden. However, these allegations were primarily based on statements by Mohammed al-Qahtani—a detainee who had been tortured at Guantanamo and who later withdrew his false allegations—and confessions by two other detainees that a U.S. court recently proved false. In fact, only three of the “Dirty 30” have any substantiated allegations relating to al Qaeda involvement.

In response to the government’s submission that al-Alwi “probably trained with al Qaeda” and “possibly helped manage” one of their guesthouses, his private counsel emphasized the lack of evidence and pointed to the fact that al-Alwi has neither been charged with nor found guilty of any crime. By his own account, al-Alwi travelled to Afghanistan in order to fight with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, not to join al Qaeda, with which he denies any involvement.

Al-Alwi has been detained at Guantanamo for most of his adult life under harsh conditions of confinement. He participated in hunger strikes and was therefore subjected to daily force-feeding. Despite the threat to his health, al-Alwi engaged in the hunger strikes as his only available form of peaceful protest. Nonetheless, al-Alwi had communicated to his personal representatives that he was willing to try and transition back to a normal diet of solid food. At this morning’s hearing, a PRB member asked why this transition had not occurred. Al-Alwi’s private counsel said that his client lacked the adequate medical support.

Al-Alwi’s lawyer also noted that his client’s current disciplinary status is “compliant.” His personal representative described him as “polite, sincere and pleasant” with a “well-developed set of ethics.” This challenges the government’s suggestion that al-Alwi continues to view U.S. personnel as his enemies – an assessment based on previous disciplinary infractions, the most recent of which is detailed in his GTMO Detainee Assessment as his refusal “to follow guard instructions in returning an extra T-shirt.”

Al-Alwi expressed willingness to attend a rehabilitation program, and says he has plans to pursue a college degree in engineering. He wants to return to Saudi Arabia, where he was raised and where his family is ready to welcome him and provide strong emotional, financial and medical support.

Unfortunately, even if eventually cleared for release, al-Alwi’s struggle to regain his freedom wouldn’t end there. The process of transferring Guantanamo detainees has been extremely slow - despite last week’s encouraging transfer of Moroccan detainee Younis Chekkouri, and the most recent transfer, announced today, of Saudi detainee Abdul Rahman Shalabi. If President Obama wants to uphold his commitment to close Guantanamo by the end of his term, the administration needs to transfer the 52 detainees already cleared for release. It also needs to move far more quickly to complete all of the PRB hearings. As of now, only one more hearing has been scheduled.

See Human Rights First’s blueprint “How to Close Guantanamo” for a detailed outline of how the administration can close Guantanamo before president Obama leaves office.