Gitmo Board Considers Detainee’s TV Diet

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Detention at Guantanamo Bay has led a suspected Osama bin Laden bodyguard to appreciate U.S. culture, representatives for the man said Tuesday, contending that he harbors no “ill will” toward the United States.
     Thought to be 41 or 42 years old, Mohammad Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim has been held at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002.
     Guantanamo’s Periodic Review Board convened early Tuesday to consider whether the Yemeni poses too great a threat to be released, with the government having failed to take its evidence against him to trial in over a decade.
     Though the board reviews the threat risk of each detainee held at facility every three years, Tuesday’s hearing marked Abu Ghanim’s first brush with this process.
     The government claims Abu Ghanim joined with jihadist groups in the 1990s and “associated” with some of the plotters in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
     Abu Ghanim eventually went to Afghanistan, where he says he worked with the al-Wafa Humanitarian Organization distributing food and supplies in Kabul, according to his detainee assessment.
     But the government claims Abu Ghanim’s connection to al-Wafa was a front for his real work in Afghanistan: fighting for the Taliban and serving as a bodyguard for bin Laden.
     Abu Ghanim was arrested late in 2001 while trying to cross into Pakistan with a group of suspected bin Laden bodyguards, the government told the review board Tuesday.
     The Pentagon streamed the proceedings from the prison camp where two anonymous men clad in camouflage uniforms spoke for Abu Ghanim as his personal representatives. Without disputing the government’s version of Abu Ghanim’s life, the representatives portrayed their client as a changed man seeking to return to his family.
     “From Day 1, Mohammad has actively participated in every meeting that we scheduled with him,” a personal representative said at the hearing, reading from a prepared statement. “He was always eager to provide any information that was asked of him, as well as provide any clarity to any situation that was not fathomable to us. During our meetings, Mohammad has expressed his desire to return home and to reunite with his family.”
     Abu Ghanim wore a short-sleeved white shirt and remained stoic through most of the hearing, either reading through papers in front of him or looking ahead with his eyes pointed down toward a spot at the center of the table. He nodded his head slowly while his representatives read the short prepared statement.
     In the statement, which covers less than one typed page, Abu Ghanim’s representatives told the board of a man who has been “respectful” and served as a mediator and leader during his time at the detention center, working “diligently” to prevent detainees from “harming themselves and each other.”
     In addition, the representatives said Abu Ghanim’s time in the prison has exposed him to “American values and culture,” and said he now passes his time watching American television and reading books by American authors.
     “This has given him an appreciation of the good things that America and Americans can accomplish,” Abu Ghanim’s representative read.
     The government painted a slightly different picture. Referring to him by his detainee identification number, YM-044, the government cast Abu Ghanim’s cooperative actions as calculated attempts to make his transfer more likely.
     “YM-044 has committed an average number of infractions compared to other detainees at Guantanamo Bay but has improved his behavior since mid-2013, probably because he wanted to improve his chances for transfer,” an anonymous voice said at the hearing, reading from the government’s prepared statement.
     Later the government said Abu Ghanim has avoided “explicitly” showing support of violent extremism, “probably judging that this may improve his chances for transfer.”
     Abu Ghanim’s personal representatives pointed to the papers in front of the detainee several times while the government read its prepared remarks.
     The government did not dispute Abu Ghanim’s role or behavior in the prison, specifically noting his habit of reporting planned detainee hunger strikes or possible uprisings. It did note, however, that he has expressed “hatred” of the United States in the past and claimed it would not be hard for him to rejoin the fight if transferred.
     “One of the former detainees with whom YM-044 has corresponded is suspected of reengaging in terrorism, and several of his family members and childhood friends associate with [Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] members who could facilitate YM-044’s introduction to the group or other extremist activity if he chose to reengage,” the government representative said at the hearing.
     The public portion of the hearing lasted no more than 15 minutes and ended without the board members asking any questions of the detainee or his representatives.
     Anonymous representatives of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State, as well as others from the Joint Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, serve on the review board.

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