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October 02, 2019

Youngest Guantanamo Detainee Believes the PRB Process Has Become “Hopeless”

By Ainsley McNerney

Tuesday, September 23, 2019 marked yet another Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing that ended as soon as it began. The PRB hearing for Guantanamo detainee Hassan Muhammad Ali bin Attash lasted all of two minutes, with neither bin Attash nor his personal lawyer in attendance. 

The PRB was created by President Barack Obama in 2011 to evaluate the continued detention of those Guantanamo detainees who have not been charged in the military commissions. The task of the PRB is to determine whether the detainees in question continue to pose a “significant” threat to U.S. national security, thus necessitating continued detention. 

Of the nearly 800 men who were once detained at Guantanamo, forty detainees remain. The Bush administration released 532, while the Obama administration released an additional 197.  Of the forty remaining detainees, twenty-three, including bin Attash, are held in indefinite detention. Five have been recommended for transfer but remain detained; seven are charged and facing trial in the military commissions; three have been proposed for military commission trial, but their charges have not yet been approved; and two have been convicted.

Bin Attash was allegedly captured on September 11, 2002 at an al Qaeda safehouse in Karachi, Pakistan along with alleged senior al Qaeda operative Ramzi bin al-Shibh. The youngest Guantanamo detainee, bin Attash was only seventeen at the time of his capture. He was taken to a CIA prison in Jordan until his transfer to Guantanamo detention facility in 2004, where he has spent the entirety of his adult life. 

The PRB has reviewed bin Attash’s case approximately three times prior to the Tuesday hearing, each time determining that his continued detention is “necessary.” The PRB claims that bin Attash’s continued indefinite detention is contingent upon allegations of extremist activity, his supposed role as an explosives expert for al Qaeda, and purported close ties to senior terrorist leaders.

Bin Attash denies the government’s allegations of a continued extremist mindset and hostility toward Guantanamo prison guards. The U.S. government accuses bin Attash of maintaining an intention to engage in extremist activities should he be released, which is refuted by both of his lawyers. Bin Attash’s representatives say that if given the opportunity of a life outside Guantanamo, he looks forward to building a family as well as a career as a translator. Their statements also asserted that bin Attash would be eager and willing to participate in Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation program upon his transfer. The government refutes these submissions, claiming that bin Attash’s family’s alleged continued extremist loyalties coupled with their inability to financially support him make it impossible for bin Attash to pursue these goals and all the more likely to re-engage in the alleged extremist activity. 

According to bin Attash’s lawyers, until recently he was engaged in preparation for his PRB hearings. However, like many other detainees, bin Attash believes “participation is hopeless” and refuses to participate in the defunct PRB process. The sharp decline in detainee participation in PRB hearings comes a result of the system’s failure in recent years to clear any detainees. In fact, of the twenty-three full reviews conducted by the PRB under the Trump administration, not a single transfer has been approved. Further, clearance does not necessarily mean release, as evidenced by the five cleared individuals who remain detained. 

Since President Trump has taken office, the PRB system has been dismantled and detainees up for review like bin Attash continue to be absent from their hearings. The reality of the PRB belies any hope for legitimate review.