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February 01, 2019

No End in Sight for GTMO Detainee

By Alexa Potter

This Tuesday morning, the Periodic Review Board (PRB) held a hearing for Guantanamo detainee Said Bin Brahim Bin Umran Bakush. Bakush, a 48-year-old Algerian national who has been detained since June 2002, refused to appear at the hearing or cooperate with his government-appointed personal representative.

The U.S. government accuses Bakush of being a “trusted associate of prominent Al Qaeda facilitator Abu Zubaydah and Al Qaeda trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.” The U.S. also believes Bakush “probably” traveled to Afghanistan in the late 1990s, where it suspects he served as an instructor at an extremist camp.

However, Bakush has consistently denied any involvement in terrorist or extremist activities. While he has allegedly provided conflicting information to interrogators, the U.S. government says that Bakush has been largely compliant during his time at Guantanamo and has not expressed or demonstrated any sympathy or support for Al Qaeda or its ideology.

The PRB is tasked with assessing whether Guantanamo detainees like Bakush can be released or transferred to a third country without posing a significant threat to the United States. Bakush’s personal representative informed the Board that he has unsuccessfully attempted to meet with Bakush seven times in the past six months and that Bakush has declined private counsel’s attempts to represent him. Tuesday’s hearing lasted a mere ten minutes.

Bakush is not the only detainee to refuse to participate in the process. The last detainee reviewed by the Board, Sanad Ali Yislam Al Kazimi, also boycotted the proceedings and stated that he had little faith in the process. And with the current state of the PRBs, it is little wonder that some detainees are refusing to participate.

Under the Obama Administration, 36 detainees were cleared by the PRBs and then transferred out of the detention center. None of the detainees reviewed by the PRBs under this administration have been cleared for transfer, and two detainees have been waiting months for a decision. Currently, five detainees cleared during the Obama Administration for transfer to third countries remain at Guantanamo. The Trump Administration has also shut down the offices that helped coordinate transfers, making that process even more difficult. President Trump has even raised the prospect of sending captured ISIS fighters to the detention facility, potentially looking to grow the prison’s population rather than reducing it.

Sending additional detainees to Guantanamo Bay would be a policy disaster. The president should instead work to release those detainees the PRB has cleared. Unless the administration demonstrates that it is providing a meaningful opportunity for detainees to have their cases reviewed, the number refusing to participate is likely to grow.