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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Guantanamo Prisoner Renews Fight for Release

WASHINGTON (CN) - Representatives for a Yemeni who has spent 14 years without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay renewed their fight Tuesday to have the man released.

Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammad Rabei'i was 22 when he arrived at the Cuban detention center in May 2002. The Pentagon this morning aired a live feed of the detainee's hearing in Cuba before the Periodic Review Board.

Though the board has ruled against Rabei'i before, Reprieve attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis expressed confidence that she can address any concerns justifying her client's continued detention.

"I strongly believe that the board's concerns do not lie in his behavior while in detention, nor his personal capacity to find gainful employment (given his language skills and young age), but rather his alleged affiliations," Sullivan-Bennis said.

As in all such hearings, written copies of the statements are all approved for public release.

Sullivan-Bennis told the board, which consists of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security among others, that Rabei'i is eager to answer any questions left unanswered from his first parole hearing.

Rabei's latest government profile says he has been a "mostly compliant" detainee, but notes that he became frustrated in late 2015 by his periodic-review status. Significantly shorter and less detailed than the one used at Rabei'i's last hearing, the new profile alleges that Rabei'i was affiliated with al-Qaida.

The government says Rabei'i "was recruited by his brother Fawaz, an al-Qaida operative, and traveled to Afghanistan in August 2001 where he received training from al-Qaida and possibly fought in Tora Bora before his capture."

A military representative for the detainee meanwhile told the board that Rabei'i regrets past decisions and how he handled his last parole hearing.

"He deeply regrets following the bad advice he was given by others during his initial board and has no intention of wasting your time, or another opportunity to show that he really does not pose any threat to anyone and that he does not harbor any extremist beliefs or ideology," the representative said.

A blond woman whose name is not public, the representative said she has been meetingwith Rabei'i for the past year and a half — during which time "he has shown nothing but kindness and respect."

"He has also made it quite clear that he will have nothing to do with anyone who shows any signs of extremist beliefs, even if that person were to be a member of his own family," the representative added. "Salman truly regrets his own past decisions and, if approved for transfer, he would take full advantage of a second chance to live an honest peaceful life and teach his future children to do the same."

The statement directly addressed concerns mentioned in Rabei'i's government profile, which says that "several of [Rabei'i's] family members are involved in or sympathetic to extremist activities and could offer him potential paths to reengagement."

Shelby-Sullivan stressed the support that her organization can offer Rabei'i after he is released. According to its website, Reprieve represents eight Guantanamo detainees and offers others ongoing assistance through its Life After Guantanamo program, of which Rabei'i will be a beneficiary.

Sullivan-Bennis described her client as respectful, reserved and shy. She said she has submitted to the board "pages upon pages" of homework assignments Rabei'i gives himself. He "taught himself English from scratch," she noted.

Having visited Rabei'i's family herself, Sullivan-Bennis assured the board that his five siblings and mom will be able to provide him emotional and financial support.

Wearing a plain white T-shirt, Rabei'i sat mostly still during the 20-minute hearing. The closed-circuit feed at the Pentagon is grainy, but Rabei'I appeared to have short, dark hair, no beard and a mustache. His hands rested mostly in his lap as he gazed down at papers on the table. He glanced up only occasionally.

The periodic review board will likely issue a decision on whether to transfer Rabei'i before President Barack Obama leaves office.

Rabei'i first appeared before the periodic review board on July 15, 2015. The board denied his transfer, but did not elaborate on why in its public statement about the decision.

"It was determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States," the statement said, adding no additional information.

Reprieve has not returned a request for comment.

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