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June 21, 2018

After 14 Years of Confinement, GTMO Detainee Gets 2nd Full Review

By Daniel Bergmann

On Tuesday, Abd al-Salam al-Hilah sat before the Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) and pled his case that he no longer presented a “continuing significant threat” to the United States and could be cleared for transfer from the detention facility. This was al-Hilah’s second full hearing before the PRB, which was established in 2011. Never charged with a crime, he has been confined at Guantanamo Bay for nearly 14 years.

The panel was made up of representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Under the framework set up under Executive Order No. 13567, PRB decisions must be unanimous, and the PRB must give detainees at least one full hearing every three years. The NDAA also requires the PRB to conduct biannual file reviews to determine the impact, if any, of new information.

Though the unclassified portions of these hearings are ostensibly public, the process seems to have recently become less transparent. For example, the Periodic Review Secretariat (PRS) website typically posts opening statements from the detainee’s personal representative and any private counsel prior to the hearing. Today, two days after the hearing, the only document posted is a brief three-line summary of the government’s case.

At the hearing, Al-Hilah’s personal attorney argued that contrary to the government’s claim that he had been a “prominent extremist facilitator,” he had, in fact, sought to help the West fight terrorism. She pointed to al-Hilah’s prior efforts to help the Yemeni government find and deport Mujahideen fighters at the behest of the U.S. government, and to his work with the Yemeni justice system to help convict those responsible for the 2000 British Embassy bombing in Sanaa.

Al-Hilah’s personal representative, a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, spoke about his wishes for the future, chief of which was seeing his wife and daughter again after the tragic deaths of his two sons. Humbled by his experiences over the last 14 years, al-Hilah longed to return to a quiet family life, his personal rep said, and would use his few resources to start a small property business in his native Sanaa.

Even if al-Hilah is cleared by the PRB, that is no guarantee that he will be transferred any time soon. So far, the PRB has cleared five detainees for transfer, three in 2010. Yet all five remain at Guantanamo, and it is unclear what plans the administration has made for their transfer.

Following the statements by al-Hilah’s attorney and personal representative, the observation feed was cut off. The rest of al-Hilah’s hearing took place away from public view.