Guantanamo panel to weigh transfer of suspected al Qaeda fighter

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 08, 2014 6:03 AM

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A suspected al Qaeda fighter held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison since 2002 is scheduled to face a parole-style panel on Tuesday that will weigh whether he should remain imprisoned there.

Ghaleb Nassar al-Bihani, a 34- or 35-year-old Yemeni, is suspected of having fought in Afghanistan for the al Qaeda extremist group, according to a U.S. Defense Department prisoner profile. The U.S. military is unsure of his exact age.

Bihani's hearing before the Periodic Review Board is to re-examine whether he should still be held without charge at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military prison in Cuba, or be transferred, possibly home to Yemen.

The review board is designed to help close the prison. About 70 of the 154 inmates cannot be prosecuted for various reasons, but are considered too dangerous to release.

Al-Bihani was captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay in January 2002, the profile said. He has been a "problematic" prisoner, having incited or taken part in protests and committed breaches of discipline.

One of his brothers is a member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and six of his brothers fought in Afghanistan. His family likely would pull him back into extremism if he returned to Yemen, the profile said.

A personal representative for al-Bihani from the U.S. military said in a hearing statement that he had been a cook in Afghanistan and fell short of being a threat to the United States.

His lawyer, Pardiss Kebriaei, said in a statement that al-Bihani had chronic health problems and was willing to return to Yemen or Saudi Arabia. But he preferred to be sent to a third country, such as Qatar, Spain or in Latin America, the lawyer said.

The Periodic Review Board was set up in October. It has heard three cases involving suspected Yemeni bodyguards to Osama bin Laden, an al Qaeda founder killed by U.S. commandos in 2011.

It has ruled one man eligible to be sent back to Yemen and said a second should continue to be held. The panel has not decided the third case.

The board's hearings are carried via closed-circuit television to a viewing site near the Pentagon.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and James Dalgleish)