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February 05, 2018

The First Periodic Review Board Initiated by the Trump Administration

On Tuesday, the Periodic Review Board (PRB)—an administrative review process set up to evaluate Guantanamo cases—convened to determine whether Khalid Ahmed Qasim should continue to be detained, or transferred. He’s a 41-year-old Yemeni held since May 2002 and never charged with a crime.

This was not Qasim’s first review. He received his initial PRB session on February 6, 2015, nearly 13 years after first being detained. His Detainee Profile at the time noted that he briefly met Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, though it could not be confirmed if he swore any allegiance to al Qaeda. It claimed he had “committed hundreds of infractions during his detention at Guantanamo Bay.” It also asserted that many of his family members retained ties to terrorist groups, and that if released, he would be likely to reengage, though the public information provided by the government does not provide proof of any of the allegations against him.

His personal representatives and counsel responded that Qasim was originally detained because of unreliable informants and never posed a threat to the security of the United States. His counsel also said that Qasim’s record of non-compliance at Guantanamo was a sign of his frustration over his detention and does not indicate terrorist tendencies or an inability to be rehabilitated. However, on March 6, 2015, the Board determined that continued detention was necessary.

Since then, Qasim has received four file reviews, the most of any detainee at Guantanamo. A file review occurs every six months for detainees slated for continued detention, to determine if there are any new facts that should be considered.

Last week’s PRB was the first initiated by the Trump Administration; four others were held in early 2017, but they had been scheduled by the Obama Administration. It was also noticeably different than Qasim’s first. His Detainee File Review, which was previously several paragraphs long, contains only a single sentence: “Khalid Ahmed Qasim (YM-242) received basic training and advanced instruction at al-Qa’ida’s al-Farouq training camp before 9/11 and possibly provided weapons training to militants.” Qasim also requested a translation of the hearing, despite reportedly speaking fluent English. Finally, his counsel chose to not make an unclassified statement, which is uncommon.

Qasim’s hearing occurred on Tuesday, coinciding with the President’s State of the Union speech and the signing of a new executive order on Guantanamo Bay. The executive order reverses President Obama 2009 order calling for closure. President George W. Bush, during his second term, also had a goal of closing Guantanamo. The Trump executive order also signals a desire to transfer new detainees to the facility, even though numerous national security experts and top officials from Democratic and Republican administrations have called for Guantanamo to be closed. 

While we’re glad that the president is preserving the Periodic Review Process, we are concerned with detainees remaining at Guantanamo after they have been cleared for transfer. Many detainees, who previously were not cleared by the PRB, will be in line to receive their subsequent full reviews this year. The Administration should conduct them in a timely fashion and transfer any detainees deemed no longer a threat to the United States.