ARLINGTON, Virginia – A Guantanamo Bay prisoner who denies U.S. allegations that he's a former member of al-Qaida says he wants to go home to Yemen and live a peaceful life after 12 years at the military prison in Cuba.
Speaking through a military representative, Ali Ahmad al-Razihi told a prisoner review board Thursday he wants to return to his home town, get married and build his father's fruit and vegetable business.
"He's ready to live out the rest of his days as a peaceful man, a family man and an entrepreneur and no longer should be considered a continued significant threat to the United States," said a uniformed representative who was not allowed to be identified by name under press rules for viewing the hearing.
A U.S. government statement read at the hearing said that a couple of years before his December 2001 capture, al-Razihi traveled to Afghanistan, "where he almost certainly joined and trained with al-Qaida " and that later he "almost certainly provided logistical support at al-Qaida guest houses" and may have been a body guard to Osama bin Laden. His alias names were listed on the terrorist group's rosters and personnel forms and he is believed to have written to his family that he planned to take part in jihad.
Al-Razihi has not provided information about al-Qaida operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has been "non-cooperative and has avoided interviews since 2010," the government said.
Of his stated wish to become a productive member of Yemeni society, the government said: "We lack sufficient information to assess whether his stated intentions are genuine."
The review board, with offices near the Pentagon, is part of President Barack Obama's effort to close the prison. Made up of representatives from six U.S. government agencies, the board now must decide if al-Razihi poses any lingering threat to the United States, a process that could take weeks.
The hearing was held in Cuba and transmitted by closed-circuit television to a viewing site for reporters and observers in the complex where the board has its offices.
The public portion of Thursday's hearing lasted just 30 minutes. The video feed, which was poor quality, showed al-Razihi sitting at a table wearing what appeared to be a prison jumpsuit and flanked by two military uniformed "personal representatives" and an interpreter in a suit. He picked up a pen and took notes on paper in front of him several times, but otherwise did not appear to react to the statements against him.
Seven journalists and four human rights advocates watched the video feed. They were allowed to view the reading of the government and personal representatives' statements. Then the feed stopped and the board went into closed session.
Under new rules this year, the Department of Defense is restricting access to the hearings, barring observers from traveling to Cuba to witness them and from listening when prisoners — held for more than a decade without charge — address the board. A Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, has said the government decided not to allow the media and others to view the proceedings from Guantanamo because of the cost and logistical complexities of bringing outsiders to the base in southeast Cuba. The restriction on listening to prisoners speak is to maintain "reasonable security," and prevent sensitive information from getting out, he said.
Officials have said they will release a transcript of what the prisoner tells the board after the hearing, but that the transcript may be redacted.
Lawyers for human rights groups and media organizations, including The Associated Press, have been pressing for complete access to the non-classified portion, arguing that barring outside observers undermines the credibility of the proceedings.