Guantanamo Board Focuses on Polyglot Detainee

     WASHINGTON (CN) – With legal representation finally on hand, a little-known, multilingual Guantanamo detainee made his case on Tuesday for transfer out of the prison.
     The U.S. says it captured Haroon al-Afghani in February 2007 in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province along with six of his associates, bringing him to Guantanamo several months later.
     Held without charge or trial ever since, Al-Afghani has relied on family members these past nine years to vie for his wellbeing, according to testimony from his first and only attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis with Reprieve.
     A monitor at the Pentagon streaming in the live proceedings from Cuba this morning showed that Al-Afghani appeared at his periodic review board hearing in a white, short-sleeved T-shirt with a medium length, dark beard. He sat mostly quiet and still throughout the proceedings, but followed along intently.
     The U.S. says al-Afghani served as a commander for Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, an Afghan political party founded in 1979 led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar that helped lead an insurgency against Soviet forces occupying the country. The rise of the Taliban sidelined the group in the 1990s, but it re-emerged as a potent militant force after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
     As claimed in the detainee’s unclassified profile, which an anonymous female voice read aloud at the hearing, the U.S. claims that al-Afghani “led attacks on Coalition forces in Afghanistan and for a time served as a link between senior al-Qaida members and other anti-Coalition fighters,” and that he served as a courier for Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a high-value Guantanamo detainee the U.S. has charged with war crimes.
     Al-Afghani “provided logistics support to fighters aligned with al-Qaida and HIG, and probably collaborated on operational matters with leaders of other anti-Coalition groups,” his unclassified profile states, abbreviating Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.
     Al-Afghani’s unclassified profile contains sparse details about him. Likewise, few details about al-Afghani can be found in the publicly available statement from Sullivan-Bennis, who described al-Afghani as compliant.
     Noting that al-Afghani has a two-year degree in economics and speaks five languages, Sullivan-Bennis said the man will be better equipped than other detainees to build a life if transferred to another country with the appropriate security assurances in place.
     Al-Afghani would like to be reunited with his wife and daughter, “whom he feels immensely guilty for having left to fend for themselves,” she told the board. “It is his feeling of responsibility to support them that will lead the charge of his search for a better life,” she said.
     Reprieve has represented 60 Guantanamo detainees, and Sullivan-Bennis spoke to the board about her firm’s ability to support al-Afghani if the board recommends him for transfer. Through a UN-funded program called Life After Guantanamo, Reprieve provides on-the-ground support for 38 former Guantanamo detainees, she said.
     As an example of the ongoing support it provides, Sullivan-Bennis said Reprieve visited 17 transferred detainees in 2015 alone.
     Aside from the attorney’s promise of support, al-Afghani’s anonymous military representatives provided the only recent insight into his current mindset.
     “Based on our interaction with Haroon as well as the way he talks about his daughter and her education, it is very apparent that he does not possess hard-line extremist ideals, especially with regards to women,” a female representative for the detainee told the board in a publicly available statement.
     Al-Afghani has supportive family members in Pakistan and England who are willing to support him to the best of their ability, she added.
     He is open to transfer to any country but would prefer going to Europe, his representative told the board. “Even though he himself is a Muslim, he has no problem integrating with anyone of any religion,” she said. “We do believe that Haroon’s desire to pursue a better way of life if transferred from Guantanamo is genuine, and that he does not represent a continuing or significant threat to the security of the United States of America.”
     The U.S. says al-Afghani “would have ample opportunities to re-engage in terrorist activities if he chose to do so, most likely with HIG but also potentially with his former associates in al-Qaida, the Afghan Taliban, or Pakistani extremist groups.”
     However Sullivan-Bennis told the board he should be approved for transfer, in line with President Obama’s mandate to close Guantanamo.

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