Sunday, January 4, 2015

Periodic Review Boards determine fates at Guantanamo

There are three main groups of prisoners at Guantanamo. Some prisoners have been cleared for release. Others are at one stage or another in war crimes trials at Guantanamo known as military commissions. The rest are imprisoned as enemy fighters.

The Obama Administration argues these individuals may return to the battlefield if released. This is the same legal theory that allowed the US to imprison German soldiers as prisoners of war during World War II.

Periodic Review Boards are hearings that consider whether continuing to detain these prisoners is, “necessary to protect against a significant threat to the security of the United States.” If not, the prisoner is recommended for release.

Photo Credit: Miami Herald

Each PRB consists of one senior official from each of six executive branch agencies: the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the State Department, the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Periodic Review Boards are the successors to the military “Combatant Status Review Tribunals” and “Administrative Review Boards” of the Bush Administration. Those hearings were also tasked with deciding whether Guantanamo prisoners should be released or continue to be detained.

President Obama signed an executive order to create the Periodic Review Boards in March 2011. The order says the first hearing for each eligible prisoner should begin no later than one year after the signing of the executive order.

In July of 2013 Pentagon officials began notifying lawyers for eligible Guantanamo prisoners that the preparations for the panels were underway. The notifications took place during the middle of a large hunger strike at the prison.

On January 9, 2014 the Department of Defense announced the results of the first Periodic Review Board. Mahmud Al Mujahid was recommended for release.  

A total of 9 prisoners have completed a Periodic Review Board hearing. The Board determined that “continued law of war detention was no longer necessary” for 5 of those prisoners. One of the others, Abdel al Rahabi, was recommended for release after his second PRB hearing 6 months after his first one.

The other 3 were recommended for “continued detention,” and are not cleared for release, at least for the time being. 2/3 of the prisoners who have gone through the PRB process have been cleared for release.

The Periodic Review Board has 56 remaining prisoners to evaluate.

At its current rate, it would take the PRB 8 years and 10 months to complete its reviews of the remaining prisoners.

Sorry Obaidullah.

Two of the individuals cleared for release by the PRB have actually been released. I have profiled one of them, Muhammed Zahrani

Mohammed Shumrani was recommended for continued detention at his PRB. 

Another prisoner I have profiled, Abdul Haq Wasiq, was released without being cleared by a PRB. He was instead one of five prisoners traded in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier held captive by the Taliban. The trade was criticized by many members of Congress. I covered the trade and the controversy surrounding it on Public Occurrences.

Most of the prisoners I have profiled so far are eligible for a Periodic Review Board. If you were on the panel to determine their fate, how would you vote?

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