President Barack Obama’s parole-style board has cleared for release a “forever prisoner” that American intelligence officials have determined to have at least one relative who served as an al-Qaeda recruiter and can help him re-engage in terrorist activities.
The latest exit from the facility comes as the race to empty out the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, heads into its final stretch. It brings the number of detainees who could be liberated by the time President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated to 22 of the 59 captives still held at the Guantánamo facility, commonly known as Gitmo.
Although 27 of the detainees have been deemed “forever prisoners,” or too dangerous to release, it is clear that that does not prevent Obama’s multi-agency Periodic Review Board (PRB) from liberating them.
The Obama administration has released indefinite detainees in the war on terror in the recent past. According to the Miami Herald, the remaining 10 Gitmo detainees “are in war crimes proceedings at military commissions, six of them death-penalty tribunals.”
His responses [during his latest release hearing] were thoughtful and showed an effort to realistically consider the future. The Board also noted the detainee’s extensive efforts to take advantage of opportunities in detention to better himself, to include multiple academic and art classes, as well as positive engagement with mental health counselors.
Prior to being taken to the Guantánamo prison in May 2002, the Yemeni terrorist is believed to have fought against the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, a coalition of mujahideen militias in Afghanistan where he received extensive combat training before his capture in 2001.
A U.S. intelligence profile dated May 12 noted that Qasim “probably retains extremist views and anti-US sentiment,” adding that he “had at least one relative who served as an AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] recruiter and jihadist ideologue as well as other associates who could help him re-engage in extremism if released.”
The Yemen-based AQAP has been described as one of the strongest and most dangerous branches of al-Qaeda.
Moreover, the U.S. intelligence profile noted in May that although he had not committed “violent offenses” in the last two years, “he has been highly noncompliant with the guard force relative to other detainees” during most of his time at Gitmo.
Fast forward about seven months to December 8, when Obama’s PRB decided to clear Qasim for release after he had been designated too dangerous to liberate for years, according to the Miami Herald.
In its recent decision to release Qasim, who had reportedly been deemed a “forever prisoner” in March, the PRB noted:
The Board considered that the detainee no longer appears to be driven by extremist ideology, the detainee, has taken steps to sever ties with extremists, and the lack of any recent anti-US statements along with improvement in behavior.
The Board recommends resettlement to a GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] country with a strong rehabilitation and reintegration program and mental health access, consistent with the detainees stated preferences, with the appropriate security assurances as negotiated by the Special Envoys and agreed to by relevant USG department and agencies.
GCC refers to a six-nation coalition of Gulf Arab states that includes war-ravaged Yemen’s neighbors Saudi Arabia, its most powerful member, and Oman.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is mandated by law to provide Congress with 30 days notice of detainee transfers out of Gitmo.
According to the latest U.S. government estimate, nearly three out of every 10 Guantánamo detainees who have been released are suspected or confirmed to have re-engaged in terrorist activities.
President-elect Donald Trump has criticized some of Obama’s decisions to liberate Gitmo prisoners.