WASHINGTON (CN) — Saying her client poses no ongoing threat to the United States, an attorney for a long-held Afghan Guantanamo detainee urged a U.S. review board Tuesday to release the man.
“In all the years I have visited and spoken with him, Obaidullah has never expressed any ideological ideas about America or any other country,” Anne Richardson, an attorney with Public Counsel, said.
Obaidullah sat quietly during the public portion of his periodic review board hearing, occasionally sipping a small plastic bottle of water. While the detainee’s unclassified U.S. government profile puts his age at 36, Amnesty International says he is 33.
The hearing was part of a review process initiated by President Obama’s administration that decides whether the “forever” prisoners – those whom the U.S. lacks evidence to prosecute but says are too dangerous to release – are eligible for transfer, or will remain indefinitely detained without charge.
While Obama initiated the periodic review boards in 2011, they did not get underway until November 2013. So far, 30 detainees have undergone the process. Detainees are eligible for review every three years.
The grainy, closed-circuit video feed, which the Defense Department streamed to the Pentagon from Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, made it difficult to see Obaidullah’s face clearly.
Likewise, sometimes garbled audio made it difficult to decipher the proceedings, which a linguist translated for him.
Taken from his home by U.S. armed forces in 2002, Obaidullah has been detained for nearly 14 years. He is one of 80 remaining Guantanamo detainees, and is among the 44 “forever” prisoners still held in indefinite detention.
Known as AF-762, the U.S. says Obaidullah received explosives training from the Taliban and helped an al-Qaida cell target coalition forces with improvised explosive devices in Khowst, Afghanistan.
The United States also contends that Obaidullah “may” have provided logistical support to al-Qaida aligned fighters and that Guantanamo detainee Bostan Karim “probably” led his IED cell, which the U.S. says was housed under control of senior al-Qaida leader Abu Layth al-Libi.
“During early interviews, AF-762 admitted to working with Karim to acquire and plant anti-tank mines to target US and other Coalition Forces,” his profile states.
During the July 21, 2002, raid in which he was captured, U.S. forces “recovered 23 antitank landmines as well as a notebook containing electronic and detonator schematics involving explosives and mines,” that profile continues.
Obaidullah and his lawyers believe, however, he was seized by mistake. He recanted statements about his alleged activities that he says were false, and made under the duress of torture from U.S. soldiers, which Amnesty International details in a 56-page report about him.
Richardson portrayed Obaidullah in a compassionate, human light, noting that he “takes every opportunity to improve himself,” studying English, computers and art.
So good is his English now, Richardson said, he needs a translator only when discussing complex legal issues.
Richardson added that she was initially unsure how Obaidullah would receive a female attorney, but that he always shakes her hand and views her as an equal to her male peers.
“He has been unfailingly polite and courteous in asking after my family and those of the other habeas attorneys,” she said.
“Far from being a religious extremist, he discussed with us childhood games he remembered from Afghanistan, and has written some moving poems, some of which we have submitted to this board,” she added.
Obaidullah’s personal representative backed Richardson’s assessment that he is a low security risk.
“We are confident that Obaidullah’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 representative said in an opening statement to the board.
His unclassified profile, despite the U.S. allegations against him, corroborates this assertion.
“Since his capture, AF-762 has not expressed any intent to re-engage in terrorist activities or espoused any anti-US sentiment that would indicate he views the US as his enemy,” it says.
The profile also notes, however, that it remains challenging to assess whether Obaidullah would pose a security risk if released because he has provided little information to interrogators.
Several Afghan detainees, who were part of his alleged IED cell, have returned to the battlefield after their release and “could provide him opportunities to reengage should he choose to do so,” the U.S. government profile says.
But Richardson said Obaidullah wants nothing more than to return to his life and the wife and daughter waiting for him in Afghanistan.
Obaidullah has missed his daughter’s childhood, having been captured just two days after her birth, but “he proudly tells us how smart his daughter is, and how important her schooling is to him,” Richardson said.
“His family has written supportive letters, stating that they will do everything in their power to help him make an adjustment once he is released from Guantanamo,” the attorney continued, noting that Obaidullah’s brother has offered to open his home to the family.
Though he ultimately wants to go home, Richardson said Obaidullah is willing to go wherever the U.S. transfers him, should they decide to release him. She said he needs no rehabilitation.
Richardson told the board that “a large number” of Obaidullah’s current and previous military and habeas attorneys have submitted letters asserting that he poses no threat to the U.S. or its interests.
“We also stand ready to assist him in his reintegration into life outside the prison, whether financially or emotionally, so convinced are we that he will be able to adjust and lead a lawful, humble life on the outside,” she said.
Obaidullah’s statement to the board was not available for public viewing, though a transcript will be available on the Defense Department’s periodic review secretariat website at a later time. The board should issue a ruling on his hearing within the next few months.
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