Gitmo Review Board Hearing for 39-Year-Old Yemeni
This morning the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened to consider the case of Hail Aziz Ahmed al-Maythali, a 39-year-old Yemeni who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay since October 2002.
According to the U.S. government's assessment, al-Maythali "was an extremist fighter," but likely did not play a major role in planning attacks. The government suspects he served briefly as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, but this has not been confirmed.
Al-Maythali was arrested during the raids on September 11, 2002 in Karachi, Pakistan. He is known as one of the "Karachi Six." Two other members of this group have also recently received PRB hearings. Like the others, the United States acknowledges that al-Maythali was part of a larger group of low-level Yemeni fighters and not a central player as the government previously claimed. He was likely waiting to return to Yemen when he was arrested.
The U.S. government noted that al-Maythali has been mostly compliant with the guard force at Guantanamo, and has even acted as a spokesman for other detainees. However, American officials believe he "probably retains anti-American views and probably is at least sympathetic toward extremist groups," though they state that he has been "guarded" in talking about his beliefs and "has provided little information of value after his initial interviews."
The assessment concludes by saying that al-Maythali "also probably has a close relationship with Maha El-Samnah, the mother of a former Guantanamo detainee," and implies this means he would be likely to reengage if released. It is unclear why a relationship with the mother of another detainee is relevant.
Al-Maythali's personal representative described a very different individual. She explained, "He recognizes that he made bad decisions in the past and he has no interest in repeating these mistakes." She talked about the classes he has taken at Guantanamo, his desire to be married and start a family, and how he would prefer transfer to an Arabic speaking country for ease of integration, but is happy to be sent anywhere deemed appropriate.
Jennifer Cowan, al-Maythali's private counsel, largely agreed. Cowan reiterated that al-Maythali acknowledges his past mistakes and simply wants to move forward. She described the progression in their relationship. At their first meeting, he wouldn't address her or shake her hand since she was a woman. They now greet each other warmly and he has even invited her to attend his wedding, whenever it may be. She notes that his family understands it is unlikely that he will be repatriated to Yemen if released, and are prepared to support him wherever he goes. She does not believe that he poses any sort of continued threat to the United States.
Current law bars cleared Guantanamo detainees from being transferred to Yemen, given concerns about the security and ability of the government to properly oversee their reintegration. For the 22 cleared Yemeni detainees, this means the United States will have to find third countries willing to accept them.
There are 79 detainees still imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Twenty-nine of them have been approved for release. The Obama Administration intends to transfer approximately two dozen of them before the end of July. This would be a welcome step towards the goal of closing the detention facility before the president leaves office.