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February 02, 2016

Guantanamo Detainee Seeks Release at this Morning’s PRB Hearing

By Adelma Jakupovic

Guantanamo detainee Yassin Qasim Mohammed Ismail appeared before the Periodic Review Board (PRB) this morning seeking release as a non-threat to the United States. The 36-year-old Yemeni national has been detained at Guantanamo since May 2002 without charge or trial.

The government claims he received extensive combat and weapons training in Afghanistan to prepare for the fight in Chechnya. He also allegedly stayed at al Qaeda guesthouses, studied at a religious institute associated with the group, and may have even fought alongside al Qaeda members in Tora Bora, where he was eventually captured in 2001. Given Ismail’s conflicting statements about his affiliation with al Qaeda, the government acknowledges that while he had access to a few senior members, he did not have an organizational role in the group.

Ismail maintains he was tortured, and participated in hunger strikes to protest his confinement. The government called Ismail’s compliance record “mixed.” The majority of his infractions occurred during the widespread hunger strikes of 2013-2014, and his personal representatives explained that he engaged in them out of despair, not rebellion. Ismail stopped striking in hopes of convincing the board to clear him for release.

Ismail’s private counsel and personal representatives also highlighted his thoughtful and serious demeanor. They described him as intelligent, courteous, a natural teacher, and respected by the other detainees. Ismail spent his time in detention reading many health and medical books and journals. He started giving nutritional advice to other detainees to help improve their quality of life.

Although the government expressed concern that returning to Yemen may lead to recidivism, Ismail’s private counsel noted that he does not have an “appetite for politics” and simply wants to move on with his life. He is willing to resettle wherever possible. Ismail hopes to teach Arabic, and may continue to study nutrition and medicine once he is released. He also wants to start a family and reconnect with relatives. 

Ismail is eager to participate in rehabilitation and reintegration programs. His family hopes to use money generated from their farm in Yemen to financially support this. His two brothers working in Saudi Arabia will also assist him. While Ismail may not be reunited with his family in Yemen due to the unstable political environment, they will ensure that he has the resources necessary to help ease his transition after Guantanamo.  

Ismail’s hearing is the third held in 2016. Three more are scheduled for the coming months. While this is a step forward, 43 detainees eligible for PRB review have yet to appear before the board. And 34 of the 91 detainees cleared for transfer are still detained.

Completing the PRB process is key to fulfilling President Obama’s long-delayed promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The recent string of releases brought the total population down to 91, and Obama renewed his promise to shut down Gitmo in his State of the Union address. But he still needs to speed up the review process and increase transfers to close the prison before he leaves office.  

See Human Rights First’s blueprint “How To Close Guantanamo” for a detailed outline of how President Obama can close Guantanamo before the end of his term.