One of the very first Guantanamo detainees — still classified as among the most dangerous — testified Tuesday to an expert panel that could ultimately see him freed, as efforts intensify to close the controversial jail.
Yemeni Abdel Malik Wahab al Rahabi, 34, appeared frail and serious in a white prison tunic during the 19-minute hearing in Guantanamo of the “Periodic Review Board.”
This is the second time the PRB has heard testimony since it was created by President Barack Obama in 2011, and the first time any part was made public — a video feed was transmitted to a room in the Pentagon for eight journalists and three NGO members.
As Obama tries to move towards closing the Guantanamo detention center, the panel acts as a federal review panel for detainees who have never been charged or tried.
It aims to determine whether the detainee continues to represent a “lingering security threat,” Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, explained at the start of Tuesday’s hearing.
The board is composed of six experts, one each from the departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, State, the office of Director of National Intelligence, and the Guantanamo Joint Task Force that runs the jail.
Al Rahabi is accused by the United States of being one of Osama Bin Laden’s former body guards and of fighting on the “frontlines” for Al-Qaeda and “may have been selected by Al-Qaeda to participate in a hijacking plot,” an Obama administration representative said at the hearing, under condition of anonymity.
Al Rahabi would seek to return to his family in Ibb, Yemen and has stated he would take up a peaceful occupation there,” the representative added.
But before his detention, he had associated with “with extremists who are now active in Yemen,” including his brother-in-law, another former Guantanamo detainee, “a prominent extremist in Ibb.”
In addition, “the marginal security environment in Ibb probably would give him ample opportunities to join AQAP if he decided to reengage,” the representative warned.
However, the board is expected within 30 days, and possibly sooner, to greenlight his release and repatriation.
There are currently 155 detainees still at the prison, including 88 Yemenis.
Of the inmates, 76 were declared eligible for release by a similar committee under the Bush administration.
Obama has acknowledged that Guantanamo has hurt the United States’ global standing.
Detainees have complained of mistreatment, and many were held for years without trial while others faced special military tribunals known as military commissions.
Lawmakers are working on measures to ease restrictions on sending detainees home or to third countries, but plans to close the facility have been thwarted by a ban on transferring them to US soil and some allies’ opposition to taking in the terror suspects.