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June 27, 2019

Another Detainee No-Show Demonstrates a Defunct PRB Process

By Julia McKay

On Tuesday, June 25th, the Periodic Review Board (PRB) held a hearing for Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Bashir Bin Lap (aka Lillie). A 42-year-old Malaysian citizen held at Guantanamo since September 2006, Bin Lap is a “high value detainee.” Following a pattern set by other Guantanamo inmates, he did not appear at his hearing.

The Obama Administration established the PRB to review whether Guantanamo detainees who have not been charged or tried in the military commission system should still be detained under the laws of war. Its goal is to determine if the detainee poses a continuing “significant” threat to the United States or can be approved for transfer to another country. 

Tuesday’s hearing was the second full review for Bin Lap, who the government alleges was involved with senior members of al-Qaeda and Jemaah lslamiyah, an extremist group that aims to create an Islamic state in Southeast Asia. The government also claims he agreed to participate in a suicide mission and helped transfer funding for terrorist operations. In his first full review in 2016, Bin Lap argued he is no longer a threat, asserting that he has been cooperative with authorities and forthcoming with information. The review board nonetheless recommended continued detention, saying he lacked evidence to support his claims of rehabilitation. Government documents acknowledge, however, that he was open about his past activities and willingly participated in detainee rehabilitation programs. 

With Bin Lap absent, his hearing this week lasted less than ten minutes. The government simply read aloud the summary of the case against him, which contained few details and revealed no new information about the case. Afterwards, his special representative stated that Bin Lap had refused to meet with him, and the hearing was subsequently concluded.

This short, perfunctory hearing is emblematic of the deeply flawed PRB process. From the beginning, the PRB was given limited authority and scope with no capacity to enforce its determinations, and the Trump Administration has exacerbated these problems. No new detainees have been approved for transfer since Trump took office, and the five who have already been cleared remain at Guantanamo. The Trump Administration has also dismantled the office responsible for overseeing detainee transfers, making it all but impossible for the PRB to function properly. The PRB process has become merely a rubber stamp for continued detention. In this context, it is clear why Bashir Bin Lap and other detainees have refused to cooperate. 

The flaws in the PRB process are receiving new attention from Congress. The House version of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that calls for an investigation into the PRB. The provision directs the Secretary of Defense to compile a report detailing the reasons for the delayed repatriation process for cleared detainees, the status of each of their cases, the current function of the PRB process, and the possible negative impact of the PRB’s stagnation.

While asking the Trump Administration to account for these failures is a positive step, the provision has yet to pass and would not directly fix the defunct process. As Bashir Bin Lap’s hearing demonstrates, until cleared detainees are transferred and those up for review are given an opportunity for an honest evaluation, the PRB will continue to be an empty exercise.