ARLINGTON, Va. – A Guantanamo detainee portrayed by his U.S. jailers as almost certainly a former Al Qaeda member pleaded through his lawyer Tuesday to be freed from the Navy-run prison in Cuba, where he has been held without charges for 12 years.
Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, 34, only wants to rejoin his Yemeni family, attend college, teach and start an agricultural business, Yemen Milk and Honey Farms Ltd., attorney David Remes told a review panel whose proceedings, for the first time, were partly open to the public.
Remes said al-Rahabi is a model prisoner with a family, including a wife and 13-year-old daughter, who "will keep him firmly anchored at home."
The government countered in a detainee profile that al-Rahabi reportedly was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and fought on the front lines. Before his arrest, he "associated closely with extremists who are now active in Yemen," according to the document, which was read aloud during the public portion of Tuesday's hearing.
Those extremists include a brother-in-law who is a "prominent extremist" in their hometown of Ibb, according to the profile.
"The marginal security environment in lbb probably would give (al-Rahabi) ample opportunities" to rejoin Al Qaeda, the government document concluded.
Both sides made their presentations to the Periodic Review Board, a panel composed of representatives from six U.S. government agencies. The panel now must reach a consensus on whether al-Rahabi poses any lingering threat to the United States, a process that could take weeks.
The public portion of the hearing lasted just 19 minutes, with al-Rahabi, his lawyer and his two military "personal representatives" linked by video from Cuba to the board in Arlington. Eight journalists and four human-rights advocates watched the video feed from a conference room in the same suburban Washington office building that houses the board's offices.
The board then adjourned into a closed session to protect classified information.
The review board is a component of President Obama's effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which opened in January 2002 to hold detainees suspected of terrorism or links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and now holds 155 prisoners.
A task force set up to review the status of all prisoners concluded in January 2010 that 48 of the 240 prisoners held at the time were too dangerous to release but could not be prosecuted either because of a lack of evidence or for some other reason. These men were to be held indefinitely but receive periodic review to determine if circumstances had changed.
The first such proceeding was held privately Nov. 20 for another prisoner from Yemen, Mahmud Mujahid. The Pentagon announced Jan. 9 that the board determined the prisoner no longer posed enough of a threat to warrant keeping him at Guantanamo.
That doesn't mean he will be free anytime soon. The Obama administration has balked at sending Yemenis to their home country because of instability there. More than 50 men from Yemen being held at Guantanamo have been cleared for transfer but are waiting for the U.S. to decide that conditions are safe enough to return them, or find a third country willing to accept them.