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March 03, 2016

Gitmo Review Board Hears the Case of Alleged bin Laden bodyguard

By Adelma Jakupovic

The Periodic Review Board (PRB)—a key component of President Obama’s plan to close Gitmo—held another hearing on Tuesday morning. Its purpose was to determine whether Suhayl Abdul Anam al Sharabi continues to pose a threat to the United States.

Al Sharabi, a 38-year-old Yemeni national, was captured in 2002 by Pakistani authorities. The U.S. government alleges that he received militant training, met with senior al Qaeda members, and became a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. It also claims he helped Khalid Shaykh Muhammad plot “9/11 style attacks” in Southeast Asia and stayed with 9/11 hijackers during a trip to Malaysia.

Al Sharabi has consistently denied involvement with al Qaeda and any knowledge of the group’s operational plans. He also claimed he did not know that the 9/11 hijackers with whom he stayed in Malaysia were al Qaeda members.

While the government noted that Al Sharabi has had a poor record of compliance for the majority of his detention, some of which included assaulting prison guards, participating in hunger strikes, and being forcibly extracted from his cell, it also acknowledged that his behavior improved, citing his desire to remain in communal living.

His personal representatives reiterated that he is not a threat to the United States. Al Sharabi expressed great sadness about the ongoing violence in his homeland and the innocent people caught in the conflict, including his family. He said that he “wishes to stay out of any and all conflicts” and that he hopes to start a family and become an administrator for a soccer team.

Al Sharabi is willing to take part in a rehabilitation program. Although he prefers to be sent to an Arabic speaking country, he is open to any country willing to accept him. His family in Yemen is reportedly ready to move forward with him to make his transition after Guantanamo easier.

Last week, President Obama delivered a long-awaited plan to shut down the prison, arguing that it undermines our national security and “stains our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.” His plan calls for an accelerated review of detainees to determine whether their continued detention is necessary, and, if not, whether they are eligible for transfer.

This is a step in the right direction. Five additional PRBs are scheduled, and 40 detainees total are currently eligible for PRB reviews. Thirty-six detainees are already cleared and have yet to be released. The administration must not waver on its commitment to increase the frequency of PRBs and the transfer of cleared detainees, if it’s to have a chance of closing the prison before the president leaves office.