In Guantanamo glitch, guards took captive to cell, not parole hearing
By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald | Published: April 19, 2016
MIAMI (Tribune News Service) — A U.S. military advocate for a Guantanamo “forever prisoner” is asking for a parole board do-over, saying prison camp guards mistakenly delivered the Yemeni captive to the wrong lockup at the U.S. Navy base in an episode that so rattled the captive he blew his hearing.
An American military officer advocating for Moath al-Alwi, 39, said prison guards brought the detainee to a cramped Camp Echo cell for a Sept. 22 Periodic Review Board hearing, rather than a spacious conference room in Camp Delta elsewhere in the Detention Center Zone. The captive couldn’t convince his captors that they made a mistake, according to a board filing, and parole board staff had to intervene at the base whose codename is GTMO.
“This took over 90 minutes to accomplish,” the U.S. military officer wrote. “Mr. al-Alwi arrived at the Hearing Room in a very agitated and upset state. Understandably, in his view it was unfathomable that he would be brought to the wrong location for the most important day of his GTMO life.”
Sept. 22 was al-Alwi’s 4,998th day at Guantanamo — and a busy one for the 1,700 or so troops assigned to the detention center staff of 2,000 Pentagon employees.
An executive jet sent by Saudi Arabia picked up the prison’s longest continuous hunger striker, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, a repatriation that reduced the detention center population that day to 114 captives. Over at Camp 7, troops were moving an Iraqi captive who objected to being touched by female guards between the clandestine site for former CIA prisoners and Camp Justice for a war hearing. There, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, 54, fired his legal team.
And al-Alwi was getting his first chance to make his pitch for freedom in a teleconference with the Washington, D.C., review panel President Barack Obama ordered set up in March 2011.
In the end U.S. troops managed to deliver him to the hearing where, according to a board decision to keep him as a forever prisoner, he praised the Taliban, was “evasive and hostile” and deemed a continuing threat to the national security of the United States.
At the Pentagon, Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross, a spokesman, said al-Alwi got a file review — not the full, in-person board hearing al-Alwi’s advocate sought — on April 14. “File reviews will focus on any new information or changed circumstances that the PRB should consider,” he said by email.
A July 2015 intelligence profile prepared for that file review said that, before his capture by Pakistani forces in December 2001, al-Alwi was “probably not” one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards but described him as “an al-Qaida-affiliated fighter who spent time with” bin Laden’s security detail. It described al-Alwi as a prison camp troublemaker who has “threatened cooperative detainees.”
At the September hearing his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, described him as a hunger striker who was not seeking to kill himself. Al-Alwi is 5 feet 4 inches tall and at the time of his hearing weighed 97 pounds. It was not known Tuesday if he still was on a hunger strike.
An earlier, leaked Guantanamo profile said he was brought to Camp X-Ray on Jan. 16, 2002, as a suspected member of the “Dirty 30” — a group of Arab men captured by Pakistani forces after they fled Tora Bora in Afghanistan who were handed over to U.S. forces. Subsequent intelligence reviews have likewise concluded that other so-called Dirty 30 members were not bin Laden bodyguards, and the board let them go.
At Guantanamo, prison spokesmen did not respond Tuesday to an emailed request for an explanation of what went wrong or whether the chief of the guard force, Army Col. David Heath, or the prison commander, Navy Rear Adm. Peter Clarke, supported the request for a new hearing. Heath is still there but Clarke’s predecessor, Air Force Brig. Gen. Jose Monteagudo, was in charge at the time.
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U.S. soldiers run in front of the Honor Bound sign at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, Cuba's Camp Delta in June 2010. A federal appeals court Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, will reconsider a case involving the reach of military commissions and the validity of the prosecution of a former media secretary to Osama bin Laden who was convicted in 2008 by a military commission at Guantanamo Bay.
JOSHUA NISTAS/U.S. NAVY