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August 24, 2018

GTMO Detainee’s Periodic Review Leaves Little Hope

This Tuesday the Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened in Guantanamo Bay to review whether Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush could be cleared for transfer out of the detention facility. Ali Bakush did not appear for his assessment at the parole-style hearing, which leaves only a slim chance that he will be cleared for transfer. However, since the Trump Administration took office, the periodic review process has given almost no hope to detainees even if they are cleared for transfer. Two detainees cleared by the board in 2016 remain at Guantanamo, and there don’t appear to be any ongoing efforts to transfer them out of the facility. Three other detainees who were approved for transfer by the Detainee Task Force remain behind bars as well.

In a prior hearing before the  board, the U.S. government asserted that Ali Bakush, a 50-year-old Libyan detained at Guantanamo since 2002, was an explosives expert who trained al Qaeda operatives. Government allegations against Guantanamo detainees have in many cases proven to be incorrect and are often based on unreliable evidence.After his initial review in 2016, the board recommended his continued detention due to its inability “to assess his intentions for the future and whether he has had a change in mindset.”

In Tuesday’s subsequent full review before the board, the government indicated that Ali Bakush was not fully cooperating in the periodic review process and was retaining private counsel. There are numerous reasons why a detainee would not participate in the process—one need only look to the detainees who have been deemed safe to transfer and yet are still being held at Guantanamo. 

One example that received media attention recently is that of Abdul Latif Nasser, a 53-year-old citizen of Morocco who has been detained at Guantanamo since 2002. Nasser was cleared for transfer in 2016, but processing delays prevented him from being transferred before President Trump took office. Since then the State and Defense Department Offices of Guantanamo Closure have been eliminated. Nasser’s family described how he felt around this disappointment, saying, “It was worse than when he was arrested. He was depressed; he was hopeless.” 

While we have no information as to why Ali Bakush has declined to participate in his PRB review, it is clear that the government needs to make the clearance and transfer process more meaningful. None of the detainees reviewed by the PRBs under the Trump Administration have been cleared for transfer. Shutting down the offices that used to handle transfers has made coordinating those transfers even more difficult. 

The continuation of the PRBs for every eligible detainee is important, and it’s a positive sign that they have continued under the current administration. But in order for them to truly be meaningful, Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mattis must reopen the Offices of Guantanamo Closure to ensure that every cleared detainee is safely and properly transferred. If the Department does not follow through on transfers, it is no wonder that some detainees are declining to participate.