Detainee Hopes 2nd Time’s the Charm for Gitmo Release

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Claiming art classes and communal living have transformed him, a Yemeni man urged the parole board at Guantanamo Bay for a second time Tuesday to release him.
     Yassin Qasem Muhammad Ismail appeared without his attorney, David Remes, but a representative from the military spoke on his behalf.
     “Since he has made the move into communal living and enrolled in classes, you can see how opening his mind to education and arts has brought him joy and actually changed him for the better,” this woman told the board, reading from a prepared statement.
     Without identifying herself, the blond representative told the periodic review board she has known Ismail for a year, and has “seen changes in his demeanor” during that time.
     “In my opinion, the change in Yasin came from taking art classes,” she said, using a variant spelling of the detainee’s first name.
     Ismail is both passionate about art and excels at it, the woman added.
     Remes, the attorney, told Courthouse News that he could not attend the hearing but had helped Yasin prepare for Tuesday’s hearing.
     “The United States never had anything to fear from Yasein,” Remes said in an email, using yet another spelling variant.
     Ismail arrived at Guantanamo in 2002, and has remained there without charge or trial these past 14 years. The United States says he traveled to Afghanistan in 1999 for “extensive combat training, and probably fought against the Northern Alliance near Bagram before his capture in 2001.”
     In March, the periodic review board denied his initial plea for release.
     “The board noted the detainee’s prior history with weapons training and combat experience over a prolonged period of time in Afghanistan,” an unclassified summary of the board’s ruling states. “Further, the board considered the frequency, specificity, and recent nature of the detainee’s expressions of support for extremist behavior, available pathways to reengagement, limited record of compliance, and lack of candor.”
     Ismail is among the detainees who have launched hunger strikes to protest their detention and confinement conditions at the prison.
     He appeared briefly in a closed-circuit viewing of the hearing at the Pentagon, which was severed to fix an audio issue. By the time it was restored mid-hearing, Ismail appeared on-screen for only about two minutes. He wore a white, short-sleeved T-shirt and a white kufi, or rounded cap often worn by Muslims, and sported a medium-lengthy, bushy beard.
     According to his most recent unclassified profile – which is much shorter than the last – the government once considered Ismail, 36, “highly noncompliant.” Since October 2014, however, it notes that “he has committed no violent offenses.”
     The government says Ismail might retain “extremist views and anti-U.S. sentiment,” noting that his refusal to be interviewed has made it difficult to assess his mindset.
     Back in March, the board encouraged Ismail to continue his compliant behavior, and also asked him to take advantage of educational opportunities, develop his post-detention plans and be more open with the board.
     According to his personal representative, Ismail took that advice to heart and tried to improve himself.
     “When I first met Yassin, he stated hopelessness was the reason for his non-compliance,” the woman said. “But while I know he still worries and desperately wants to go home, there is a definitive change in his demeanor.”
     The representative described Ismail as intelligent, telling the board he deeply ponders any subject he approaches. He takes an interest in health and medicine, a point his previous personal representatives noted in February during his first parole hearing.
     “Because of his passion for health, he has started counseling other detainees in nutrition to increase their knowledge in an effort to assist with their quality of life,” they had said in a prepared statement.
     Remes also described Ismail’s personality to the board during the February hearing.
     “Yassin is intelligent and perceptive,” Remes had said. “He is serious and well-mannered. He is a fine writer and a natural teacher. He thinks through his actions and makes his own decisions.”
     Remes noted in an email that he did not submit a new statement for Tuesday’s hearing because he had nothing new to add.
     “At age 36, Yassin has lost the wanderlust and thirst for adventure he had at age 22,” Remes stated in February. “After fourteen years at Guantanamo, he has no appetite for politics and simply wants to get on with his life.”

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