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April 27, 2018

PRBs Continue, But to What End?

The Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened on Tuesday to assess the status of Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, a 37-year-old Yemeni detained at Guantanamo since January 2002. This PRB session, the eighth under President Trump, was Uthman’s second full review hearing; his initial PRB was on April 26, 2016, and his first full review was on December 15, 2016.

The United States government maintains that Uthman was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, and likely fought against coalition forces at Tora Bora. The PRB previously recommended his continued detention at Guantanamo based on his past involvement in terrorist activities and his family member’s “long-term extremist views and activities.”

Even if the PRB decides that Uthman no longer poses a threat to the United States and clears him for transfer, there’s no telling when he might leave Guantanamo. Current law prohibits any Guantanamo detainee from being transferred to Yemen, Uthman’s home country, until December 31, 2018. This means that the United States would have to find a third country that would take him in and monitor him according to a detailed agreement. That process has recently become far more complicated.

The Office of Guantanamo Closure at the State Department oversaw the setting up and implementation of transfer agreements between the United States and third countries for detainees unanimously cleared for transfer by the six main national security agencies (Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of Director of National Intelligence). Unfortunately, Secretary Tillerson closed it last year. In addition to reports of transferred detainees encountering security issues in their host countries, this means coordinating future transfers will be extremely difficult, if not impossible—even for detainees like Ahmed al-Darbi, whose transfer is a condition of his plea agreement. 

None of the eight detainees reviewed by the PRB’s under the Trump Administration is cleared for transfer. The first one, Omar Muhammad Ali al-Rammah, whose PRB was on February 9, 2017, still hasn’t received a final decision on his case. We applaud the continuation of the PRBs for every eligible detainee and strongly urge Secretary of State Pompeo to reopen the Office of Guantanamo Closure to ensure every cleared detainee is safely and properly transferred.