WASHINGTON (CN) – As the Guantanamo Bay parole process winds down before the Trump administration takes the reins Jan. 20, a Yemeni prisoner who loves painting renewed his bid for release Tuesday.
Suspected of having served as one of Osama bin Laden’s body guards, Mohammed al-Ansi has been held without charge or trial at Guantanamo since arriving at the Cuban-based U.S. naval base in January 2002.
“Judging from other detainee statements and corroborating information, YM-029 may have been selected to participate in an aborted hijacking plot in Asia intended to coincide with the 9/11 attacks,” his unclassified detainee file states, referring to al-Ansi by his internment serial number.
Pushing for al-Ansi’s release this morning, attorney Beth Jacob with Kelley Drye & Warren told the Periodic Review board that her client’s artistic abilities will serve him well if he is released.
Al-Ansi brought some of his paintings for Jacob to see the first time the two met. She said the two spent an hour discussing them.
“After several meetings, he trusted me with his originals, and I showed them to an artist who lives and works in New York City,” Jacob said in her public comments. “She was struck by his ability and innate talent.”
Established by an executive order of President Barack Obama, the board Jacob addressed consists of one senior official from the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, Homeland Security, along with a representative from the Joint Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In assessing whether a petitioning detainee poses an ongoing national security threat to the United States, the board weights statements from attorneys and personal representatives that the detainees are safe to release, and have a plan for their futures.
One personal military representative for al-Ansi told the board in a statement that the detainee has created 150 new pieces of art since July.
Jacob said al-Ansi’s penchant for art will keep him occupied, make him part of a community of artists and provide him with the opportunity to earn income.
Al-Ansi is also taking small-business classes and has expressed an interest in construction work, the attorney said.
According to the government’s profile, al-Ansi was born in 1975, making him about 41. But Jacob said he is only 36, and was barely 20 when he arrived at the detention center. Al-Ansi reportedly suffers from undisclosed chronic health issues, which require him to follow strict dietary guidelines, get regular exercise and take medication.
In addition to ample family support, the Carter Center, founded by President Jimmy Carter, renewed a pledge to help al-Ansi resettle into a new country, Jacob said.
Obama’s Periodic Review Board process is credited with cutting Guantanamo’s prison population to 59. Of these, 20 are approved and awaiting transfer out of the prison. Al-Ansi is among a handful of the remaining detainees hoping for one more shot at parole before President-elect Trump takes office in January.
Al-Ansi’s last effort, on Feb. 23, was unsuccessful.
“The board considered the significant derogatory information regarding the detainee’s past activities in Afghanistan,” its March 23 decision states.
The board also noted a lack of candor that it said prevented assessment of al-Ansi’s credibility and future intentions.
Jacob was not his attorney then.
Even if the board clears al-Ansi now, he is unlikely to be transferred before the incoming administration takes over. It is unclear whether the Trump administration will honor any outstanding transfers. The Pentagon declined to answer whether the incoming administration would be bound to honor Obama administration transfers.
It is also unclear whether the parole board will continue functioning under the new administration, since the process was established by executive order. If the president-elect wants to halt the process, it is within his ability to do so.
To date, the board has held 75 hearings. It has cleared 35 prisoners and recommended continued law-of-war detention for 29 detainees. Twenty-two of those cleared have been released, while 13 are still waiting to be transferred.