Gitmo Parole Board Back to Grind After Big Release

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Just hours after a massive prisoner release from Guantanamo Bay, the detainee said to have helped spark the capture of Osama bin Laden was a no-show at his parole board hearing Tuesday.
     Since its inception, the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board has cleared 32 detainees for release, and recommended 17 for continued law-of-war detention. The single largest transfer of captives cleared for release under the Obama administration occurred just Monday night with the Pentagon announcing the transfer of 15 long-held Guantanamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates.
     Most detainees opt to attend their parole hearings, but Abu Faraj al-Libbi proved to be a rare exception Tuesday morning.
     The Libyan is among the 15 high-value detainees still at Guantanamo who were once held in the CIA’s secret prison system. The United States says al-Libbi served as a trusted adviser and courier for Osama bin Laden, and for current senior al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
     Shortly after bin Laden’s capture, the government claimed that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” – a euphemism for torture – helped extract intelligence from al-Libbi that allowed the U.S. to begin unraveling bin Laden’s whereabouts.
     That claim unravels, however, in unclassified portions of the Senate torture report. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who led the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the CIA’s torture program, notes that the CIA gathered actionable intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts over a decade.
     “Contrary to CIA representations, this intelligence operation did not rely on information from CIA detainees after they were subjected to the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques,” a 2014 fact-check from the California Democrat says (emphasis original).
     Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said he wants to revive the use of enhanced-interrogation techniques and load Guantanamo up with “bad dudes.” The reality TV star recently told the Miami Herald that he would expand the military commissions system and Guantanamo war court facilities to try U.S. citizens accused of terrorism — taking such suspects out of U.S. district courts.
     Since federal law prohibits trying U.S. citizens in military commissions, Trump’s plan is an odd variation on a longstanding debate over the military commissions system to try noncitizens.
     As compared with the strong conviction rate in federal courts, military commissions have proved to be a costly process, mired in delays. Congress has made it illegal, however to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for federal court prosecution.
     As part of the president’s plan to shutter Guantanamo before he leaves office, the Obama administration has accelerated the process of reviewing the cases against detainees who have been at the prison for years without a charge.
     Barring congressional action, however, it is likely that some of detainees will remain into the next administration, as the clock winds down to the next general election.
     Al-Libbi could be one of them, although he is among a dwindling population. The number of Guantanamo prisoners dropped to 61 after Monday’s transfer.
     Though he did not attend his hearing, two anonymous personal representatives offered a short statement to the board on the detainee’s behalf.
     The two military men could be seen in a closed-circuit video feed at the Pentagon, sitting alone at a table where they are usually joined by the detainee up for review, a translator and an attorney.
     The men said they met with al-Libbi several times in recent months. He was respectful and polite during these meetings, they noted.
     The detainee, who suffers from serious health issues, wants to reunite with his wife and three children, the statement says.
     “He is eager to live a life of peace,” one of the representatives told the board, reading from the statement verbatim. “He wishes to return home to his family. He has a large loving family that is ready to support him upon his return.”
     Yet the United State maintains that al-Libbi remains an extremist at heart.
     “LY-10017 has praised previous attacks against Western targets, to include 9/11, and has expressed support for future attacks against Western civilian targets,” an unclassified profile of al-Libbi says, describing the detainee by his interment serial number.
     “In addition to his extensive, historical network of extremist contacts, members of LY-10017’s extended family are known to have varying levels of involvement in terrorist activities and probably could facilitate efforts by LY-10017 to reengage if he chose to do so,” a female voice said, read the profile verbatim during the short hearing.
     Personal representatives for al-Libbi insist meanwhile that health issues will keep al-Libbi off the battlefield.
     “Faraj has stated he harbors no ill will to the U.S. and does not consider himself a threat,” according to their statement. “His medical issues alone would present a barrier to any kind of threat.”
     The board will issue a ruling on al-Libbi within the next few months.
     Of the 15 detainees transferred to the United Arab Emirates on Monday, 12 hail from Yemen and three from Afghanistan. The U.S. has held some of them for 14 years without charge or trial.

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