Obama’s Guantanamo Board Reviews Al Qaeda-Linked Prisoner’s Request to Return to Yemen

Hillary Clinton
Arlington, Va.

ARLINGTON, VA — Representatives for a Guantanamo Bay prisoner argued before Obama’s Periodic Review Board (PRB) on Tuesday that the al-Qaeda linked detainee should be reunited with his family in Yemen, where the U.S.-backed government collapsed last week.

The PRB held a hearing on whether or not Saeed Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah Sarem Jarabh, a Yemeni inmate, should remain in custody at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba without charge, or be transferred to Yemen or another country.

Members of the PRB include senior officials from the Departments of Defense (DoD), Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The PRB is a national security decision-making panel.

A detainee profile dated November 17, 2014, read during Tuesday’s hearing, mentioned that if Saeed is sent back to Yemen, he would most likely return to his family in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, which is now gripped by political unrest and insecurity.

The profile noted that throughout his detention, the inmate has maintained contact with his brother, “who probably is a member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Sanaa and is associated with numerous extremists, including the AQAP amir.”

“Although Sanaa has experienced frequent AQAP activity, it has the highest level of security in the country,” added the PRB’s November profile, which fails to reflect the current situation.

The U.S.-backed government of Yemen in Sanaa has fallen to the hands of Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

AQAP, al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, is expected to benefit for the Houthi takeover of Sanaa.

“It is apparent to us that Saeed desires to return home to Yemen and reunite with his wife, his aging parents, and especially with his two daughters,” said one of the inmate representatives during the unclassified portion of the hearing, which was transmitted on a closed-circuit television from Guantanamo Bay to a viewing room near the Pentagon.

“We believe that Saeed is an ideal candidate for transfer and does not represent a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” he added.

The representative pointed out that the inmate “is completely open to transfer to other nations where his family could join him,” namely Saudi Arabia.

Saeed has been held at Guantanamo since February 2002.

He is accused of traveling to Afghanistan in mid-2001 with the intent of engaging in jihad. Saeed allegedly stayed at al-Qaeda guesthouses, received weapons training from the jihadist group, and may have fought on the frontline against U.S.-led forces.

Although he has denied being a member of al-Qaeda, he has “expressed firsthand knowledge of al-Qaeda members and facilities,” according to the military.

The transmission showed the inmate wearing a white skullcap and beard. He sat in between two government-provided representatives. A translator was also at the table.

President Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantanamo prison. Obama created the PRB by executive order in March 2011. Tuesday’s hearing was the 12th to occur since the PRB was created.

There are now about 54 detainees waiting for PRB hearings. Hearings are expected to occur more frequently so that Obama can fulfill his promise to close down Guantanamo.

There are 122 detainees still held at Guantanamo, including 54 who have been cleared for transfer. Most (47) of the 54 detainees approved for resettlement are from Yemen.

About 116 prisoners have been transferred out of the prison under Obama’s watch.